WYTHEVILLE—Every spring, vultures and bald eagles routinely kill Eric Crowgey’s lambs.
“Vultures are the primary problem that time of year, but bald eagles will swoop down and pick up a lamb and take it,” said Crowgey, a Wythe County livestock farmer. “Since both species are protected, there’s not much we can do, but we use USDA Wildlife Services to help us with the problem.”
Black vultures and bald eagles are among birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which gives the U.S. Federal Wildlife Services authority to manage those birds.
“The most effective way we’ve found to manage the predatory birds is to work with USDA Wildlife Services and get a kill permit so some vultures can be killed legally,” Crowgey shared. He explained that Wildlife Services staff have hung legally killed vultures from tree branches to deter others during lambing season. “It seems to slow them down,” he noted.
But while the practice of hanging vultures works with vultures, “it doesn’t impact the eagles as much. We haven’t found anything that helps with them.”
Crowgey said before he bought sheep he’d never seen an eagle on the farm. “My father is 90, and he said he’s never seen an eagle on this farm. We’ve heard of others in the area having similar experiences too.”
Jeffrey Rumbaugh, a USDA Wildlife Services biologist, helps Virginians with migratory bird conflicts and permitting questions.
He said the best ways to combat black vultures are to use noise harassment—such as loud bombs, shooting or pyrotechnics to scare them; good husbandry practices, which include cleaning up carcasses and afterbirth quickly; and shooting or effigies, but both of those require a permit.
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation supports removal of the black vulture from protected status and additional tools to expedite depredation permits. “Farmers simply want the ability to protect their livelihood, and our members have consistently expressed support for a more streamlined approach to dealing with vulture problems,” noted Stefanie Kitchen, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations who works with farmers on wildlife issues.
The Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline received 456 calls about birds in fiscal year 2018. Anyone experiencing a wildlife concern can contact the helpline at 855-571-9003.