Residents of one Bridgewater, New Jersey neighborhood counted at least 100 Black Vultures roosting in a group of pine trees, leaving behind foul-smelling and acidic droppings on lawns and roofs. So the neighbors chipped in and tried to hire a wildlife specialist from the United States Department of Agriculture to hang a dead vulture in a neighborhood tree. “The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” the wildlife specialist said. “To posses any type of vulture carcass or even to handle a live bird, you have to have both a state and federal permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the N.J. Fish & Wildlife Division.” Vulture carcasses have been strung up in at least a half-dozen other New Jersey locations this winter for similar reasons.
After hurricanes knocked down larger trees, the vultures have taken up roosts in various neighborhoods in New Jersey. Besides the foul smell and droppings, residents are concerned for their small pets. Well, there are several items that concern me. First, the news report called them Black Turkey Vultures. In North America, we have two vulture species: the Black Vulture and the Turkey Vulture; there is no Black Turkey Vulture. Both are mostly black birds. The Black Vulture’s range in the U.S. is in the south, southeast, and as far north as New Jersey. Second, although Black Vultures do occasionally take small live prey, there is no evidence that vultures, hawks, or owls prey on domestic cats or dogs. Notice I say “no evidence.” I’ve heard stories and I’m sure the occasional owl takes an occasional kitten, but I have found no actual verifiable evidence of such an event; I’ve checked with several vets and they have not seen authenticated cases either.
Now, does hanging a dead vulture from a tree deter other vultures? Some ranchers shoot and hang coyotes from fences to deter other coyotes – they say the smell repels them. This is legal in some, if not most states. Some chicken farmers used to shoot Red-tailed Hawks (once called “chicken hawks”) and hang them from fences to scare other hawks. Does this stuff work? Well, if I approached a village of head-hunters in the jungles of New Guinea and saw shrunken human heads on the gate, I’d probably detour, but I seriously doubt if coyotes or birds would have the mental capacity to think that “hmm”, a dead vulture, one of my guys; I’d better go elsewhere.
According to a predator hunting website, one trapper killed coyotes and piled them up next to his trap and eventually caught and killed 11 coyotes, one after the other. Coyotes are wily as we know; birds aren’t nearly as smart, so hanging a dead vulture is a useless technique and I’m sure the wildlife biologist knew it. But if it makes the New Jerseyites happy, so be it. Now excuse me while I hang some dead mosquitoes from my fence.