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Black vultures are becoming a big headache for Missouri livestock producers

Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.

Missouri livestock producers are battling a growing nuisance — black vultures.

Black vultures, unlike the more common turkey vultures, are known for being aggressive as they gang up and prey on newborn livestock. Davin Althoff, the director of marketing and commodities at the Missouri Farm Bureau, said he’s received countless calls from livestock producers about how aggressive the birds are.

“After the birth of the calf, the black head vulture will attack,” Althoff said. “Typically, they attack the eyeballs first, and then they’ll go in for the kill.”

The black vulture bird population has grown in Missouri from 14,000 in 2015 to roughly 21,000 in 2021. Their rapid growth has only worsened the problem.

The Missouri legislature has appropriated $1.6 million in the unsigned budget to the Missouri Department of Agriculture to help learn more about the birds' behavior and population growth as well as mitigate the problems they cause.

The money will also be used to hire two USDA coordinators in southwest and southeast Missouri who will be responsible for working with landowners.

As many wait for Gov. Mike Parson’s signature, several groups including the bureau and the USDA’s Wildlife Services are providing mitigation strategies to help livestock producers.

Black vultures are federally protected and are not allowed to be killed without a permit. Althoff said livestock producers in the state can contact the Missouri Farm Bureau to get a free sub-permit to shoot and kill up to five birds.

“There’s also a lot of strategy around what these producers can do with the dead birds they kill,” he said. “One of the most effective methods is utilizing a dead black vulture or a fake black-headed vulture hung in effigy — hung upside down. The producers that apply for the sub-permit and are issued the permit, while they are only allocated five kills, it’s what they do with those [dead vultures] that is very effective in mitigating the challenges of the black vultures.”

There are also nonlethal approaches to handling the pesky birds. David Marks, assistant state director with the USDA Wildlife Services, said putting birthing livestock near human activity, harassing and scaring off black vultures with loud noises and using guard dogs can help.

“If you start seeing them in an area that you haven’t before, it’s a lot easier to harass them and change what they are attracted to in the first place early on before they get established,” Marks said. “But once they get established in an area and the population starts to grow they really get tied to that area, and it’s a lot harder to make them want to leave.”

Livestock producers who are able to prove they’ve lost livestock to black vultures can apply for reimbursement for the animal and necropsy through the Livestock Indemnity Program.

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.
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