We need vultures. Their stomach is so acidic it can dissolve metal and metabolize disease. If it eats an infected animal, the disease will die with the vulture, keeping wildlife and humans healthy and safe. However, as their presence increases in the Ozarks, they are a predator to cattle, posing a new challenge to our farmers.
“He’s a threat., we don’t need threats we’ve got a multitude of them” says Jim McCann, former president of Missouri Cattlemen.
Jim McCann is a 5th generation farmer, considered a ranching expert in the Ozarks. McCann was first on the list of frantic phone calls made by Jim Shepherd, cattle farmer of 40 years.
“We had never seen the calf, and they had eaten it almost completely up,” describes Jim Shepherd, Lawrence County farmer.
A pack of 15-20 black buzzards, commonly called black vultures, attacked a calf just hours after it was born.
“We don’t know what sex it even was, I mean it was so far gone that there was no way to tell if it was a bull or a heifer,” recalls Shepherd.
A shocking loss and financial hit, it could have sold for $2,500 as a full-grown bull.
These vultures are scavengers meaning they eat dead animals, but it’s an aggressive bird so it’s not out of the ordinary for it to attack live animals, like lamb, piglets, and calves.
“Black vultures, they rely more on their eyesight, so when they see a fresh opportunity like a calf that’s covered in afterbirth…then they’re going to go in and go after that food source” says Josh Wisdom.
Josh Wisdom is a wildlife damage biologist with the Missouri Dept. of Conservation. He says trouble with black vultures is growing…”over the last 50-60 years they’ve really creeped northward into Missouri,” Sarah Kendrick is the state ornithologist with the department,”…and now especially in the last decade they are being found more and more so”…due to climate change.
“Birds and all wildlife require certain things for where they live, like habitat and a specific temperature range and a precipitation pattern and those have been changing” says Kendrick.
Since black vultures do no migrate, both summer and winter changes impact where they live.
In Springfield, since 1970, summers have warmed almost 2 degrees, while winters are heating up too.. in Springfield by 3 degrees in 4 decades.
As a result, temperatures stay warmer longer, ” birds thanks to the power of flight can more easily shift and change their range in response,” explains Kendrick.
The Audubon Society says only 41% of the bird’s summer range is stable, predicting a 142% increase in their summer living space by 2080 due to warming temperatures. And, they’re not alone, 314 bird species are considered climate impacted.
As these vultures adapt to our changing climate… “if you know you’re about to have calves” warns Wisdom… our cattle farmers like McCann and Shepherd need to adapt too, “do that indoors, so the birds can’t get to them,” advises Wisdom.
If a vulture attacks, Josh Wisdom advises you to hang an effigy, “it needs to represent a dead or a wounded vulture.”
Or you can scare them away with a loud noise, deterrents called bird bangers.
It is as loud as those noises, climate is changing, lives are impacted. We need to learn, to adapt.
“All we want to do is feed the world and you know what… that’s pretty darn important” says Jim McCann.
Reminder: Black vultures are federally protected. You CANNOT shoot it without a permit. If you are having trouble with black vultures on your farm/ property, contact your local Missouri Dept. of Conservation wildlife biologist : https://mdc.mo.gov/regional-contacts?county=137 , they can connect you with the the appropriate avenue to file for a permit with the USDA/ Fish and Wildlife Services.
For more information on black vultures: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/black-vulture