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