Black buzzards causing a buzz

The protected status of the black buzzard isn’t flying with some Kentucky farmers who have lost cattle to the ominous scavengers. The problem is so prevalent, it’s being discussed at KFB meetings on the state and county levels.

This roost of black buzzards is about eight miles southeast of Shelbyville.

This roost of black buzzards is about eight miles southeast of Shelbyville.

“Across the state we are seeing mounting livestock losses,” said KFB Director Danny Wilkinson of Adair County, who has lost calves and heifers. “It’s the worst predator I have; much worse than coyotes.”

Lyon County FB Director Brent White has launched a crusade of sorts to attack the black buzzard problem after losing cows and calves from a large roost near the Fredonia Valley area in northern Lyon County. He has been speaking to groups and penned a letter that county Farm Bureaus can use.

“It’s been a terrible problem for me,” White said. “It started about two years ago. I had two newborn calves in a small pasture; they came off a roost and attacked both of them. They killed one. I lost a large cow that had a hip problem; they got up on his back and pecked his eyes out. They’ve killed a couple more calves. They would follow my herd from paddock to paddock waiting to take advantage of a calf. I’ve seen some distract the cow while others attacked the calf.”

Black buzzards (also called “vultures”) are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Act. While most common in rural areas, they’re also seen in the city ravaging through garbage cans.

Farmers can get a permit to kill the buzzards with steel shot, but must go through both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA. Some farmers claim that process is cumbersome.

KFB’s Public Affairs Division is studying potential options for addressing the problem through legislation or regulations. “We’re asking people to document losses and report them to us so we can use that information,” said Wilkinson, who chairs KFB’s swine advisory committee and serves on the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission.

Turkey vultures also are common in Kentucky, but are not known to attack live animals.

“The black vultures are the ones that will eat live animals,” White said. “They are smaller and more aggressive. They will run a turkey (vulture) off a carcass. They are not afraid of humans, either.”

White said he wants “to get the word out” in hope that the federal government will develop some form of a quick remedy for farmers. Meanwhile, he advises those with livestock losses to take photos and record the date and location. That information can be used to obtain livestock indemnity loss payments through the Farm Service Agency.

11 Responses to “Black buzzards causing a buzz”

  1. Lura Starnes says:

    In the Spring of 2014, a calf was born on my mother’s farm in Madison Co., KY. A man notified my mother that he had witnessed black buzzards peck out the eyes of a newborn calf and kill it despite the efforts of the cow to try to protect her calf.
    We have witnessed the aggressive nature of the bird and the fact that they are not afraid of humans. I wonder if the Federal Govt
    will understand the importance of protecting the livelihood of farmers. I also am concerned that this bird has the potential to attack a small child or a frail, elderly person due to their aggressive nature.


  2. michael harman says:

    As a falconer, raptor educator and custodian of several large predatorial migratory species, this situation is of special interest to me. It is not a new development, but one where man’s monetary and farming interests have been in conflict with nature. The coragyps atrata (black headed vulture) is not changing it’s demeaner or becoming more aggressive. It always has been, and is so from the time it is hatched. The article is correct in the information concerning cathartes aura (turkey vultures) as being non-aggressive. In fact, the turkey vulture is naturally timid, possesses superior intellect, can solve complex puzzles and form complex social orders within the colony. Black headed vultures also possess many of these same traits but do not back down easily in a confrontation or competition for food. Unlike the turkey vulture, the black headed vulture hunts by sight alone, has no sense of smell and will follow any other carrion eating species to a meal, then bully their way into taking it. The two species are not genetically related in any way and are an oddity as they are the prime example of convergent evolution. Most species can be traced back to a single ancestoral group or individual species, then branch out as the species splits off into other evolutionary species over thousands of years. With vultures, they are considered to be converging from two totally different ancestoral species. They are unique in the world of carrion consuming species and both serve a vital role in our ecology. Both species can and regulary consumes disease ridden corpses. Neither seeks out putrid meat, but are selective in their diets. They prefer meat that won’t fight back, has a certain texture and is readilly available. Whatever theyeat comes out clean on the other end. A vulture’s physical and chemical makeup allows them to safely consume such pathogens as virilent as anthrax and cholera, then process the meal into a benign matter through digestion.

    Wholesale poisoning and culling of the vulture flocks in the farmlands of southern Africa has shown this solution to produce undesirable results. As the birds die, so do other desirable species exposed to the poisons. The loss of vulture numbers has caused a huge resurgence in disease outbreaks in both livestock as well as humans.

    The biggest concern I have at this point is the lack of knowledge in the public concerning proper identification of the correct species being targetted for control efforts. Juvenile turkey vultures appear very much like black headed vultures to the untrained eye. Both have dark colored heads. Both species attain full adult body sizes within weeks of hatching so trying to tell which birds are juvenile turkey vultures apart from adult black headed vultures can be an issue with untrained observers, leading to the unintentional culling of a species not even related, nor involved with any livestock losses. As long as the culling is done in a responsible manner instead of a “free for all” shooting spree or a wholesale indiscrimate poisoning, success can be seen in reducing the populations of the offending species. That being said, I would strongly advise people to approach the matter sensibly and not succumb to any notions the species is getting more aggressive, a risk to humans, or any other media hype based on assumptions and not factual scientific evidence. By the way…. my own rehab turkey vulture is a cherished family member with the same manners and disposition as a family dog. Amazing creatures these birds are and not the evil harbingers of death they are too often portrayed as. They are valuable assets to our ecology and ways of life. They rid us of disease, remove hundreds of tons of decaying corpses along our roadways and farms, playing a vital role inour own survival.


  3. Debbie says:

    I’m glad you made the effort to educate people regarding Vultures. A lot of people just don’t understand the importance of them. I am a Vulture lover and have observed both the Black and Turkey Vultures. The only thing that I have ever seen them feed on is carion but I do have compassion for the farmers that are losing their livestock. I didn’t even realize that Vultures would feed on live animals. I’ve never witnessed it and I lived on and around farms in Florida. I hope there is a reasonable solution to take care of this problem without going on a killing spree. I’m curious as to how this will be dealt with.


  4. Michael Harman says:

    For clarification purposes, the term “buzzard” does not pertain to any known species of vulture. It is a term of European origin, used to label birds in the order “Buteo”. These include our red shoulder, red tailed, Swainson, marsh, and any number of others that have a taxonomic name beginning with the latin word “Buteo”. In this country we have grossly misused the term, as we also have equally misused the term “hawk”. True hawks are members of the accipiter family that include goshawks, coopers hawks and sharpshin hawks among others. In short, vultures are vultures, buzzards are buzzards, falcons are falcons and hawks are hawks. Passing legislation to start wiping out buzzards won’t help the vulture problem, but cause a massive infestation of mice, rats and voles to destroy the crops and spread flea borne diseases.

    If you educate yourself to understand the species, as well as the cattle industry, you can better solve the problem with less chance of the solution coming back to make things worse in other ways. Too often, fueled by media misrepresentation, folklore, preconceived notions and outright ignorance, reactionary efforts fail miserably. In Ohio, one town council decided to eliminate the local vulture population by cutting down the colony’s roosting tree. I might add this was much to the entertainment of the vultures, who simply moved to the tree next to it. If anyone thinks these birds are stupid, think again. They have an amazing aptitude for learning, can identify and remember individual human faces, communicate between themselves, work together as a hierarchy in order to accomplish a common goal and keep coming back. If you kill off the dominant female, another takes her place. Chances are good you are dealing with more than one colony anyway. The key here is to develop a sensible cost effective means to coexist.

    The mention of these birds pecking out eyes in the article is somewhat skewed. While vulture beaks are extremely sharp, they are rather fragile compared to other meat eating raptors. They have a major amount of difficulty breaking through the hides of animals. In order to feed, they will seek out the soft spots and any anatomical orifice to gain the quickest access to the meal within. This is not to cause blindness but to simply feed by the most accessible, energy conserving means.


  5. Scott says:

    In the past five years or so, I’ve noticed an increase in vulture activity around our farm. I’d not paid much attention to it because in the past, turkey buzzards had always been timid and we had no problem with them “cleaning up” the carcass of a dead cow that might have met some misfortune and had been dragged back to the “boneyard” in the very back of one of our fields where the odor wouldn’t bother anyone.
    Last year my brother had a baby heifer calf that turned up with her little anus and privates just destroyed. Something had ripped her up on the rearside (only the orifice area) and it was a meaty bloody mess. We tried to clean her up as best we could and spray her with disinfectant, but, she died a few weeks later. We had no idea of what might have maimed her liked that as a dog or possible coyote attack usually happens to the head and neck area. My brother talked to an old timer about the little heifer and his reply was “white tips”. I’ve now read this article, gone to the Cornell University website about birds and I’m pretty confident I can distiguish between a black and a turkey vulture. We’ve now got our eye to the sky and I’m seeing these devilish black buzzards for the menace they are.
    They might be wonderful raptors, scavengers, or whatever to some people, but, when I saw that poor little baby heifer calf and her maimed backside, it caused ME to not feel to much affection for them. Sounds like they are spreading out and are getting too thick.
    Kudos to KYFB for bringing this problem to the forefront. I watched three flying over our farm yesterday, but, they made no agressive moves towards the cows and calves in the field below. Now KYFB needs to link up websites so farmers can identify the difference between a black and a turkey vulture.


  6. Belinda Kinmon says:

    3 days ago we lost twin calves and yesterday we lost a calf to these horrible birds. The twins had their eyes pecked out and the mama cow was in distress, due to trying to protect her babies. My husband found the third calf with about 20 buzzards around it and more chasing the mama. These things are a definite menace to Ky farmers, not to mention the monetary loss, do you know how much beef is bringing on the market?


  7. kathy smith says:

    My parents home is near a farm with cattle but they do not own it. The black headed vultures have become such a menace that my daughters small dog was endangered the other day. I wish there was a way to reduce the aggressive one and leave the others alone….


  8. Matt Bline says:

    We are having this issue in southern indiana. I border crawford and Harrison Counties. Local farmers are losing 2 to 3 calves every year to black buzzards. We need a solution to the problem. It’s a very costly issue that needs attention asap


  9. Charlie says:

    Here in Ontario, Canada, we are having trouble with RAVENS attacking newborn lambs. And I just went on a call to find a 1.5 mo old calf that was dead and the ONLY injuries were that it’s eyes and anus were gone. Owners reported the calf was perfectly healthy the day before.


  10. Markita says:

    We have lost 5 goats this fall. The animals eyes have all been pecked out. They have also been swarming around our miniature horses.


  11. david pepper says:

    The last two weeks, Dec 20-31,2015, I have lost two adult cows in one herd (within 4 days of each other). I have had many attacks in the last two weeks and would have lost many more adult cows were my farm hands and I not on patrol. We now have some decent photos and some video of an attack showing a cow singled out and taken down by these creatures. This cow was saved but did require a vet. I have no calves being born in any of these herds. I do have two other farms divided by a four lane highway within a few miles of the aforementioned farms. These two herds are fall-calving herds and a few late calves are still being born. It is a rare day for someone driving down the road to NOT call with a report of buzzards aggravating a cow-calf pair.
    These birds are smart, they have an attack plan and must be able to comunicate to carry it out.I believe they are smart enough to know the fresh killed animals are desired over the old carcass. We check our cattle daily and they are well fed and cared for. We have a rendering service for dead animal pickup and the dead animals are not out lying in our fields, they are immediately removed from the herd and gone within a day most usually.



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