Skip to comments.Ugly black buzzards finding Texas buffet in young stock
Posted on 04/13/2008 9:15:17 AM PDT by devane617
COLLEGE STATION Maybe if they were pretty, the ubiquitous buzzards that soar over Texas and elsewhere before landing to dine on some carcass wouldn't be viewed with such repugnance or considered a nuisance.
"Unquestionably, they're as ugly as sin," says Ian Tizard, a Texas A&M University professor of immunology and director of the school's Schubot Exotic Bird Center.
The birds range over much of the United States, and their March return to Hinckley, Ohio, for instance, is welcomed annually as a sure sign of spring.
But their proliferation as pests is making them unwelcome from high-rises in Florida to ranches in Texas, denying the misnamed buzzards they're really vultures, and either turkey or black vultures the respect as Mother Nature's vacuum cleaners that they might deserve.
"They're using up a useful food supply that would otherwise go to waste," said Tizard, who's studied birds for more than 40 years. "And you can make a case they tidy up the countryside too. We'd have a lot more smelly dead bodies around the place if they weren't there to clean it up."
Ranchers all around Texas increasingly are telling wildlife authorities that black vultures in particular, considered the more aggressive version of the bird and can reach 25 inches in length and have a wingspan of 5 feet, are responsible for killing young cows, sheep and goats.
"They're prospering," Tizard said. "Clearly if they're killing cows that otherwise would live, that indeed is a cause for some significant concern.
In Madisonville, about 100 miles north of Houston, city commissioners gave their blessing in January to shoot vultures blamed for destroying property as long as folks obtained the proper federal permits. Vultures, like virtually all birds, are federally protected.
Just last month, officials in Barstow, Fla., moved to include them in their Noxious Birds Ordinance of 2008, removing them from protection on a bird sanctuary island.
Randy Smith, a San Antonio-based biologist with the Texas Wildlife Services Program, said complaints about buzzards have soared.
"Ten years ago, it was a rarity, but it's pretty frequent nowadays," he said. "Usually we'll end up assisting the rancher. Nine times out of 10, we'll assist him getting a permit."
The permit allows the birds to be trapped or killed in addition to allow use of harassment to try to drive them away.
Harassment is what officials at the Halifax Health Medical Center outside Daytona Beach, Fla., have been using since early this year, apparently with some success. Metal spikes, sprinklers and a loud roof alarm are meant to discourage vultures from roosting.
It might not work forever.
"They're very smart," Smith said. "These vultures learn over time what you're doing doesn't hurt them."
That's when game officials recommend a shotgun might be more convincing.
In urban settings, the pesky birds are known to roost in high-rise buildings and peck at rubber seals around windows.
The turkey vulture's bald red head is the source of its name. Its cousin, the black vulture, has a gray head. They also differ in how they fly and hunt. The turkey vulture relies on the sense of smell, the black vulture sight, and frequently watches its turkey brethren find the food, then pushes its way into the roadside buffet.
Their featherless bald heads, though, are a remarkable evolutionary trait.
"You have a bare neck because you don't want your neck all matted with blood if you're sticking your head into a carcass," Tizard said. "The bare skins are an adaptation, but it sure makes for an ugly bird."
Poking around inside a dead animal for lunch also means they have a strong immune system. And add to that no real predators and an abundance of food, it's no wonder the population of one of the nation's more common birds has taken off.
Tizard said when he came to Texas A&M a quarter century ago, turkey vultures would have accounted for about 90 percent of the buzzard population, but the more aggressive black vultures have been moving steadily north and probably now make up about 70 percent.
He suggests it's because of the availability of more food.
"Imagine what Texas was like before cars," Tizard said. "There would have been dead critters around the place but never so obvious like the possums and skunks along the side of the road and roadkill deer. I strongly suspect there's a lot more food for them, and it's moving north too.
"And, on the whole, people don't bother them."
Both species are related to storks rather than buzzards, which are found in Africa. Buzzard is the old English name for hawks, which resemble vultures in flight.
"I think the early settlers saw a big black bird floating around in the sky and called them buzzards," he said.
But it's in the pasture where the serious damage happens.
Vultures "hang around when calves are being born on the pasture because there's a good meal there."
"My impression is that if the calf is weak, say it can't rise, and if mama is weak and she can't protect it, then they might not wait until it's dead," he said. "I've talked to a lot of ranchers and I do believe under some circumstances, black vultures are very aggressive and they're not going to wait until that animal is totally dead."
As far as the vultures being a threat to humans, he doesn't believe it's a problem.
"They're going to run away from people," he said. "My impression is they're going to get close to an animal that can't respond. A dying animal, they're waiting. As they say, the vultures are closing in. And that's exactly what happens."
Send them to the border.
The vultures are drawn to the cities by newspapers.
I can see why a health center would not want buzzards roosting on it.
Yeh, they should roost on nursing homes instead.
“Typical” black buzzards...
Do they carry democrat party membership cards?
The old gag line on the cartoon with two buzzards sitting in a dead tree, “Patience Hell!!! Let’s kill something”, may be true.:D
True story from Arlington, TX.
I got a contract working for a company that, to be frank, was in its death throes. They seemed to think having me come in and add a financial aspect to their marketing presentations would overcome the fact their service really didn’t make financial sense for their prospective customers.
Shortly after I started, when they started getting sued by so many vendors I couldn’t even keep all the suits straight, a bunch of vultures started to hang out on a balcony attached to their offices.
It wasn’t long after that that I started requiring payment weekly for the next week, and cashed the check at lunch just to be sure it cleared.
Understandable, when one considers that their defense strategy includes barfing on their attackers...
I used to work at the Savannah River Nuclear facility. I loved seeing the Black Vultures and the Turkey Vultures perched all over the nuclear cooling towers.
"Ranchers all around Texas increasingly are telling wildlife authorities that black vultures in particular...are responsible for killing young cows, sheep and goats."
Could have come from any local paper south of Austin - oh, about sixty years ago.
PS: I'm pretty sure that both 'south of Austin' and 'sixty years' understate historic fact (just as 'killing sheep' overstates it) but I can only speak to experience.
Great timing for this story, about a week ago there were 5 of them on my burn pile in my back field where I threw a dead coyote a couple of months past.
My kids were fascinated watching them jump around the pile tearing at the carcass, and I could tell my son was just itching to mess with them somehow.
I told him to go get his Red Ryder BB gun (he’s nine) and I would pay him $10 if he brought me one he shot. His eyes lit up and I never saw him run so fast to get his shoes on, or look so disappointed when they scattered before he could get close enough to even see them clearly.
Good article.I’ve never seen a buzzard/vulture go after a live animal,but i would not be surprised if it’s true-especially a small animal(ex cat,small dog).They are very large-with formidable claws.Every winter(in my area-urban-a couple miles outside downtown Tampa)almost overnight my area goes from a handfull of buzzards-to hundreds.Statewide-i assume thousands.Just like their(northern)human counter parts-it must be the warm weather:)Anyways-i’ve always wondered what they(vultures-not humans)eat to survive while on “vacation” from wherever?Only so much road kill out there.
“I strongly suspect there’s a lot more food for them, and it’s moving north too.”
A few illegals consumed by buzzards down here.
I've googled and can't seem to find anything that says vultures are federally protected. They aren't in Texas. If someone finds it, let me know. As long as they go after roadkill I don't have a problem. However, any rancher who's livestock is being picked off should shoot, shovel, and shut up. There's a prick here who shoots coyotes and hangs them at his front gate in view of everyone driving down the road. Personally, I suspect he's trying to compensate for his short comings. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/endang/animals/birds/#raptors
One day there were 5 turkey buzzards perched on the church sign. If I'd only had my camera.