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Visiting Vultures Seldom Make Anyone's Day

photo of two vultures on perch

That large bird soaring so gracefully overhead, may not be, as you think, hawk, a falcon, or one of America's favorite patriotic symbols, the eagle. Instead it could be one of the flesh-tearing, bone-picking true "baldies" of the bird world, the fascinating, fearsome vulture.

Vultures are an intriguing mix of good, bad, and ugly. They play an important role in ecosystems by cleaning up animal carcasses. However, as a result of shrinking habitat and increasing numbers, the birds are coming into ever more conflict with people. Vulture droppings kill trees and other vegetation. Large numbers of vultures in residential areas destroy property, and their aggressiveness frightens park users, swimmers, and homeowners. Vultures harass and kill livestock. In flight, they are a danger to aircraft. As the complaints multiply, pressure grows on wildlife biologists to find ways to manage vulture populations that will both maintain healthy numbers of birds and reduce nuisance behavior and property destruction.

Two vulture species found in the United States. Turkey vultures are almost nationwide, missing only in parts of the Plains states. Black vultures are found in the southeastern United States, ranging north to Ohio and Illinois and as far west as Texas and southern Arizona. Where ranges overlap, the 2 species often co-mingle, sometimes sharing roosts.

Vulture populations have been slowly but steadily increasing in the United States, black vultures at an annual rate of about 2.4%, and turkey vultures at about a 1% annual rate. Some biologists believe the population increases may be even greater because vultures soaring beyond the limits of the human eye may not be counted by standard bird census techniques that rely on human observation.

Vultures and Livestock
Roosts and Property Destruction
Buildings and Belongings
Health and Safety
Management Methods

*all vulture information from a 2000 paper written by Laurie Paulik (National Wildlife Research Center Information Services) based on interviews with Martin Lowney USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services - Virginia, Michael L. Avery, USDA/APHIS/WS/National Wildlife Research Center -Gainesville, Florida, and Thomas Seamans, USDA/APHIS/WS/National Wildlife Research Center -Sandusky, Ohio.