Vul­tures re­new res­i­dence in Cen­tre­ville

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — Yearly, vul­tures seem to take up res­i­dence in Cen­ter­ville and the sur­round­ing area. Septem­ber through March, the large birds roost through­out town and neigh­bor­ing ar­eas leav­ing, un­sightly traces of their in­hab­i­tance.

Re­cently res­i­dents of Cen­tre­ville took to so­cial me­dia to be­moan the birds pres­ence once again. Fre­quent sight­ings of large roosts seem to be most preva­lent this year along the wharf and at Mill­stream Park.

Opin­ions seem to vary about whether the birds are more pest or prac­ti­cal part of the food chain.

After fol­low­ing up with Nat­u­ral Re­sources Bi­ol­o­gist, Rick Walls, with the Wildlife and Her­itage Ser­vice, Mary­land De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, both sides were val­i­dated.

The two species com­monly seen in Queen Anne’s County are the turkey vul­ture — a his­toric res­i­dent of Mary­land and Delaware — and the black vul­ture — a re­cent im­mi­grant to the area. Both are present in the state through­out the year and both have been be­com­ing in­creas­ingly abun­dant, ac­cord­ing to the United States De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, which tracks this type of wildlife.

The turkey vul­ture is the larger of the two species, and ac­cord­ing to the USDA has an av­er­age weight of 4 pounds and wing­span of up to 6 feet. This bird is pre­dom­i­nantly dark brown and has a feath­er­less, bright red head. The black vul­ture is smaller and has a wing span of less than 5 feet. It is pre­dom­i­nantly black from head to tail.

While preva­lent in the area, Walls said it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that both turkey vul­tures and black vul­tures are fed­er­ally pro­tected by the Mi­gra­tory Bird Treaty Act. “In or­der to trap, kill, re­lo­cate or oth­er­wise han­dle vul­ture or its eggs the fed­eral per­mit is re­quired,” said Walls.

The birds have a part to play in the nat­u­ral clean-up of car­casses, and ac­cord­ing to the USDA, al­though black vul­tures are known to oc­ca­sion­ally prey on do­mes­tic fowl and livestock, both turkey vul­tures and black vul­tures feed pri­mar­ily on car­rion and have adapted to spe­cial­ize in scav­eng­ing car­casses. How­ever, when Walls was asked about nat­u­ral preda­tors for pop­u­la­tion con­trol of the vul­tures, he of­fered this in­sight. The birds have no nat­u­ral preda­tor in this part of Mary­land and Delaware, ex­plained Walls, they are de­pen­dent on avail­able food sources.

To al­low for nat­u­ral se­lec­tion, the birds must have a food source to con­tinue to thrive. The USDA rec­om­mends clean farm­ing prac­tices that include prompt car­cass dis­posal (burial, in­cin­er­a­tion, etc.) and pro­tected lamb/calv­ing to re­duce avail­able food sources. Walls said in town and more heav­ily pop­u­lated ar­eas this means dis­pos­ing of game car­casses in an area away from houses and keep­ing pet food out of sight. Feed­ing feral cats has also been found as a means of at­tract­ing the vul­tures, said Walls. Re­search shows the birds have keen eye­sight and highly de­vel­oped ol­fac­tory ca­pa­bil­ity com­pared with other bird species.

Walls also said that the birds them­selves are not par­tic­u­larly prone to spread disease and, in fact, the acid in their di­ges­tive sys­tem while pro­duc­ing fe­ces leaves a rel­a­tively clean trace. Waste should al­ways be han­dled care­fully though, ad­vised Walls.

Typ­i­cally, Walls said, the vaulters will con­gre­gate in an area they feel safe and re­main there un­til they de­sire to move on, the largest roosts are seen dur­ing the winter, with an av­er­age of 40 to 200 birds.

The acid from the birds drop­pings is what causes roofs and trees to be­come dam­aged, in some in­stances killing the trees, said Walls. The birds can be legally de­terred from the area us­ing tech­niques such as noise de­ter­rents — Walls rec­om­mends check­ing with lo­cal law en­force­ment and noise or­di­nances be­fore em­ploy­ing any of th­ese tac­tics; and vis­ual de­ter­rents, in­clud­ing my­lar bal­loons or a dead vul­ture — as in one doc­u­mented case by the USDA where a vul­ture which died and hung from a ra­dio tower for sev­eral months re­sulted in the aban­don­ment of the tower as a roost. A sim­i­lar tac­tic was em­ployed in the neigh­bor­ing town of Ch­ester­town with sim­i­lar re­sults, a few years ago.

Fed­eral and state per­mits are re­quired be­fore this method can be em­ployed, ad­vised Walls. Per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions can be ob­tained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice.

Town Coun­cil­man Tim Mc­Cluskey said the town con­tin­ues to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion, but they have re­ceived no for­mal com­plaints.

Re­ports of vul­tures roost­ing at Mill­stream Park be­ing fed geese car­casses by in­di­vid­u­als who had pur­pose­fully brought the car­casses into town were be­ing con­sid­ered by town po­lice, said Cen­tre­ville Po­lice Chief Charlie Rhodes.

Feed­ing th­ese birds could re­sult in pos­si­bly be­ing charged with lit­ter­ing, he said.

HAN­NAH COMBS

Vul­tures feed off the car­cass of a goose at Mill­stream Park in Cen­tre­ville.

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