Black Vultures can be Urban Pests!

By Dave Hanks

This cousin of our Turkey Vulture is usually a benefit to us. Like all vultures, it rids our surroundings of dead animals. But when population numbers increase, or because of urban expansion, they can become a big problem. No one likes to find bird “whitewash” and vomit all over their shrubbery and yards. A Washington D.C. suburb has reported flocks of them, settling in for the night, on pine trees in people’s yards. Upward of a 100 to 200 might come in to a group of trees – so many that branches would break because of the weight. Some species will adjust to living with humans. This is one of them.

Compared to our Turkey Vulture, it is a bit smaller, lacks the red head, and has whitish wing tips. Like all vultures, it has a bald head. This bird has no voice box but can hiss or grunt when disturbed, whether on a carcass or by its nesting area. I say nesting area because it constructs no nest at all – just lays two eggs on the ground under a bush. Young birds take 75 to 80 days to fledge and 3 years to reach maturity. It is very dominant when on a carcass – driving any competition (even larger species) away.

We don’t see this bird in Cassia County because it inhabits the southern and southeastern (especially coastal areas) of the country. Urban areas are warmer than the surrounding countryside. This is called the Urban Island Effect, and it attracts these birds. Noise makers have been used to disturb and move these birds away, along with harmless laser beams, but these methods only move them onto other people’s property. The Migratory Treaty Act of 1918 protects this bird along with other species.

We became aware of this bird in the Everglades of Florida and in southern Arizona and Texas.

(A Black Vulture just west of the L.B.J. ranch in Texas)