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Black vultures are eating cows alive. Now some farmers can legally shoot the protected birds.

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Aug 18, 2021, 3:21:41 PM8/18/21

SCOTTSBURG, Ind. — Sometimes as many as a dozen black vultures circle
above John Hardin's fields in southern Indiana’s Scott County, poised for
when they spot a cold, weak or vulnerable cow. Unlike their turkey vulture
cousins, which are easy to spot with their red heads, black vultures don’t
always wait for their meals to be dead.

“The black vultures, now that's a very, very aggressive bird,” Hardin
said. “They’re basically waiting for the cows and calves to die or trying
to kill them.”

Black vultures survive, like most vultures, by eating carrion, or the
remains of dead animals. That can serve as an integral part of the
ecosystem: eating diseased remains that could carry sickness and spread to
other animals. But unlike Indiana’s turkey vultures, black vultures also
go for living animals: calves, piglets, lambs and other small livestock
are their preferred targets.

Seemingly every day when Hardin walks out his door, he sees them. They
often are perched on the roof ridge of his neighbor’s barn or settled on a
nearby fence post — watching, waiting.

It may sound ominous, Hardin said, and in a way, it is.

The livestock farmer said he’s lost at least two but possibly up to four
animals in the last few years because of black vultures.

“When you’re in the animal husbandry business, one of the worst things you
want is for an animal to die, especially the way vultures do it,” Hardin
said. “Once they get a hold of them, they pick the calf’s nose off, pick
around his mouth, face and navel. So then the calf can’t make it very long
after that.”

Hardin is among a growing list of farmers who are dealing with what many
describe as a reign of terror brought on by black vultures. These birds,
however, are protected under an international law that regulates the
hunting of migratory birds. That fact has left livestock producers across
the state with a limited set of tools for how to address these birds, and
with varying levels of success.

But the Indiana Farm Bureau is trying to give them another option. In
early August, the insurance organization launched a new program in which
livestock producers can apply for a permit to legally kill and remove a
set number of black vultures from their property.

This initiative is several years in the making, but the farm bureau hopes
it will have a swift impact.

“When the initial volley of calls came in from those producers, we tried
to figure out how we could help them,” said Greg Slipher, Indiana Farm
Bureau’s livestock specialist. “This gives them more control of what’s
happening on their farm.”

Vultures kill dozens of animals
Slipher first heard of black vultures about five years ago when he got a
call from his colleagues in Kentucky warning him: They’re coming.
Seemingly overnight, black vultures started popping up everywhere on
southern Indiana’s landscape, he said.

“I got a heads up that these birds were coming my way,” he said, “and by
golly they were right.”

Black vultures have continued to expand north in recent decades across the
Ohio River from their original territory in southern states. In the 1990s,
there were so few black vultures in Indiana that groups dedicated to
protecting migratory birds didn’t even have a clear estimate. Now, a
recent study based on calculations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
estimates upward of 17,000 black vultures in the state.

As their numbers have grown, so, too, has the damage the black-headed
birds have caused and the calls for assistance they’ve spurred. The Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service with USDA has received an average of
8,639 technical assistance calls from participants in 2020 nationwide.

That increase can mostly be attributed to producers who are looking for
help on how to manage the vultures, Humberg said.

Black vultures terrorize: Difficult to legally kill birds that are eating

Still, the damage black vultures have caused is a little less easy to nail
down — at least at the present. A multi-year study of black vultures being
led by Purdue University is currently underway. One of its goals is to
better understand how many farmers have been affected, how many animals
have been lost and the resulting financial costs.

A survey of only about 20 livestock producers found they lost 25 animals
to black vultures in the last three years, including both adult cows and
calves. A single cow can be worth more than $1,000, and for small
producers, the loss of just one cow can be a major disruption to their

Program to protect livestock from vultures
According to, the black vulture reduction pilot program
started in Kentucky and Tennessee, and includes Arkansas, Mississippi,
Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The program allows farmers with vulture
problems to obtain a depredation permit.

The U.S. has migratory bird treaties with Canada and Mexico, as well as
Japan and Russia. These laws were put in place to protect migratory birds,
which often cross international borders, from over-hunting. Black vultures
are protected under one of these treaties: The 1918 Migratory Bird Act.

Under that law, it is illegal to maim or kill black vultures without a
permit, which costs $100 in Indiana. Farmers can apply for one of these
permits through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but they have found
the process onerous and the cost a deterrent.

“It becomes a convenience issue and a dollars issue,” Slipher said.

Indiana drew inspiration from Kentucky, which pioneered this program
several years ago. Since then, similar initiatives have popped up in
Tennessee, and most recently in Missouri — all of which have worked well
and had positive results, Slipher said. He hopes Indiana will see similar

Indiana Farm Bureau is now taking on that part of the process for farmers.
The organization applied for a permit from FWS, which it received in June.
With that approval, the farm bureau is paying the permit cost and can
award sub-permits to its members, for free, to lethally remove black

“That’s going to be to our advantage,” Slipher added. “We have that
relationship in place already and farmers will be more comfortable
reaching out to work with us on it.”

Their goal is to make things as straightforward as possible.

There is no limit on the number of permits the organization can give out,
but it is authorized to take only 500 vultures this year. Based on each
individual producer’s needs, the farm bureau will set the number of
vultures they can take, not to exceed five.

Producers are excited about the program. In the first week since it
launched, the farm bureau already received 24 applications, and Slipher
expects that number to grow as the fall calving season approaches. He
plans to issue the first permit this week.

Hardin is one of the farmers who applied.

“It’s going to be hard to eradicate them, but I hope it helps,” he said.
“Everybody I know is on board, and I think there is a sense of hope.”

After receiving a permit, producers must report the vultures that they
remove and also ensure that they dispose of them properly. That can
include burying the birds, but Slipher hopes farmers will do something
else. He is encouraging them to preserve at least one of the birds and
hang them on the property in effigy, which has been found to be an
effective method for warding off more vultures.

Humberg envisions this program becoming a mainstay, as long as it is

“The vultures are here to stay, and we are going to have to find ways that
we can all live together,” he said. “If that means some birds have to be
lethally removed, hopefully we’re minimizing the number of birds we have
to treat that way and the number of cattle lost.”

Contributing: Sudiksha Kochi, USA TODAY


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Susan Cohen

Jan 1, 2022, 1:24:01 PM1/1/22
Those things are almost as bad as jews, who by their very nature are
just as predatory as vultures.

Judith Latham

Jan 3, 2022, 12:24:07 PM1/3/22
On Sat, 1 Jan 2022 13:23:50 -0500, Susan Cohen <>
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