by DOUG GRAVES
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Black vultures are on the rise in Illinois. The birds can prey on vulnerable animals such as newborn calves. The Illinois Farm Bureau has now issued a warning to farmers and ranchers in the state, advising them to take precautions to protect their livestock from black vultures. This includes keeping animals close to buildings or under cover, using scare tactics such as loud noises and bright lights, and in extreme cases, obtaining a permit to shoot the birds.
The black vulture has been slowly moving its range north over the last few decades and reports indicate they may now be in many parts of Illinois. Black vultures should not be confused with turkey vultures, which only feed on deceased animals. Black vultures have a dark gray head. Turkey vultures have a red head.
Both species of vultures provide a service to the environment by eating deceased animals. The problem for farmers comes when the black vulture preys on live animals, which happens more often if deceased food is scare.
Turkey vultures live across all of the United States, Mexico and the southernmost portion of Canada. They are migratory, leaving the northern parts of the U.S. and Canada each winter. Black vultures are not migratory, and their range is much smaller, living mostly across the southeastern part of the U.S., but they have been spotted in the northern parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
In the air, both types of vultures have white feathers on the underside of their wings. Turkey vultures’ white patches run the length of their wings and on their tails, while black vultures only have white feathers at the tips of their wings.
On the grounds, the birds appear similar in size, although turkey vultures are a bit larger. A turkey vulture’s wingspan can be between about 5 ½ feet and six feet, while a black vulture’s is between 4 ½ feet and five feet. Black vultures have an excellent sense of vision, which helps them see a potential meal from above. Turkey vultures have a better sense of smell and are able more easily sniff out a carcass. Black vultures will often follow turkey vultures to their find. When competing for a food source, turkey vultures will win out because they are slightly bigger, but black vultures often flock together and can push turkey vultures away.
Black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to harm or kill them without a migratory bird depredation permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and a class B nuisance wildlife control permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). IDNR is working with farmers and ranchers to find solutions to the problem.
“The IDNR is continuing to cooperate with the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and USDA Wildlife Services to develop a simply process for livestock producers to receive federal and state permits for removing black vultures that can be harmful to their operations,” IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie said. “I am glad we were able to continue the process created two years ago that provides relief to Illinois stockmen while still meeting our obligation to conserve protected species.”
According to the IDNR, predators such as these are more likely to be a problem for cattle producers when food supplies are scarce and competition is high. Black vultures, ravens and crows generally scavenge carcasses, but they will attack live animals. Predatory birds frequently attack first at the eyes, nose, naval and anal area. They can blind a calf even if they do not kill it. Black vultures may target weak, newborn calves and cattle that experience calving difficulty.
It is important to be able to determine whether a situation is predation or scavenging. This will allow one to monitor and ultimately control predator problems on cattle operations.
IFB will issue sub-permits as a benefit to livestock farmers who are experiencing problems with black vultures and assist in securing IDNR’s required permit. The sub-permit is available to livestock farmers facing depredation of commercial livestock, which includes cattle, horses, sheep, goats and swine.
Approved applicants will be allowed a maximum of three birds, determined after consultation with USDA Wildlife Services. Following the consultation and approval, a state permit will also be provided by IDNR. This permit was created in 2021 to assist livestock producers.
Interested livestock producers may request a sub-permit application by contacting Illinois Farm Bureau Associate Director of Commodity and Livestock, Tasha Bunting, at firstname.lastname@example.org.