Those Darned Vultures

According to the New York Times on Jan 13, 2020, “Some 300 vomiting, defecating vultures have made a United States Customs and Border Protection radio tower in South Texas their home, coating the tower and buildings beneath it with potentially hazardous excrement as besieged border officials try to stem the deteriorating situation.

In a notice on Thursday, the agency said it was looking for advice on how to attach some sort of net on the 320-foot tower in Kingsville to keep the vultures from roosting and nesting on its “railings, catwalks, supports, and on rails and conduit throughout.”

“Droppings mixed with urine are on all of these surfaces and throughout the interior of the tower where workers are in contact with it, as well as on areas below,” the agency said. “Since the presence of birds attract more birds, this rural tower will be a frequent and constant target for vultures.”

The agency said it hoped to have the net system, which would cut off access for the birds, in place by August, “before the natural heavy vulture roosting period during the fall months.”

Customs and Border Protection said it could not immediately answer questions about the issue on Sunday. A person who answered the phone at the agency’s station in Kingsville, a rural city of nearly 26,000 about 150 miles southeast of San Antonio, declined to comment.

The agency said in a statement to the news website Quartz, which reported on the notice on Friday, that the vultures defecate and vomit onto buildings below and that “there are anecdotes about birds dropping prey from a height of 300 feet, creating a terrifying and dangerous situation for those concerned.”

Well, OK, vultures are a bit ugly and they do vomit and defecate, but exactly what danger do they pose? Maybe they do drop prey from 300 feet, but they are not lofting entire raccoons or skunks up that high. Maybe rats or gophers? I’m not sure I’d qualify dropping them as “terrifying and dangerous”, but more like yucky.

Now, it is true that birds are involved in the transmission of some diseases to humans. Histoplasmosis, caused by a fungus, is not carried by birds but the fungi grow in bird droppings and disturbing those bird droppings could stir up the fungal spores. Encephalitis and West Nile Virus are carried by birds and transmitted by mosquitoes to humans. And others. Many are carried by pigeons and because pigeons roost in proximity to humans, they are major carriers of some diseases.

Whether vultures roosting on a radio tower actually pose a significant health hazard, I don’t know. Just how many workers are going to be climbing the tower and stirring up vulture guano? Maybe leave the vultures be and hose the tower down once in a while.

3 thoughts on “Those Darned Vultures

  1. I think that the agency statement is poorly worded and the “terrifying and dangerous” part refers to a the peoples’ perception of the vultures . Vultures can be scary to some people and those people might think that the vultures are dangerous.

  2. At least they aren’t planning to poison the birds or kill them some other way (so far as we know). I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

    1. There is more of a chance of the vultures poisoning the people, they eat pretty icky stuff. The genus name of vultures is Cathartes.

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