Town of Stuart plays ‘chicken’ with vultures


By Cory L. Higgs

In past weeks, some Stuart residents have been plagued by a large committee of vultures, with no end in sight.

That issue has not been resolved, according to Murphy Brown, who owns property in the Town of Stuart.

Brown has used an air horn to try to get the birds to relocate to less populated areas, but the “air horn failed after the third try. They got wise real fast. I got a recording of an eagle. That scared them good on the first try, then on the second, they spooked but were right back.

“I now have purchased a mega phone to use with the recording. I haven’t tried it yet. I also purchased an owl hawk whistle, but it’s not here yet,” Brown said, adding “I really think they have figured that all these threats are coming from my car and have learned to ignore them. This is becoming ridiculous trying to outwit them.”

Town Manager Terry Tilley said that he has received multiple complaints about the birds and has been in touch with state officials trying to resolve the issue. He reiterated what Cromwell said, and added that all attempts thus far have not been unsuccessful.

Tilley said there is so much food for the vultures in town that they have become lazy and are not easily moved. He said the vulture ‘hot-spots’ are on Sunset Drive, and behind Main Street or virtually anywhere there is easy access to food. The vultures have a keen sense of smell, something it uses in the wild to locate rotten animal corpses, but as people and animals make more contact competing for living space, the vulture has developed a taste for human food waste, and the promise of an easy meal.

Tilley said that it would take the whole community getting in the areas and doing a deep clean, and even them, it would be uncertain, as the vultures ‘ sit and wait’ outside dumpsters.

Tilley sees that euthanizing the birds is the only solution. However, it is illegal under state law, and he noted that the town of Stuart was at an impasse where neither the birds nor locals are willing to make the next move.

A potential solution would be the cleanup of the areas and waiting the vultures out, in a game of chicken. However, the damage would persist until the vultures move.

Jennifer Cromwell, assistant state director of the USDA’s APHIS and Wildlife Services, said it was difficult to address the situation, not seeing it herself, but noted that some species of vultures, like black vultures, are destructive and will tear up roofing and scratch cars they land on, and scatter copious amounts of waste as they roost.

She said that something attracting the birds to the area, and noted that uncovered garbage or easy food sources are most likely to blame. She said they often run into these types of vulture’s roosts around areas where people are feeding feral cat colonies. The large amounts of food waste and carrion attract the buzzards.

The vulture doesn’t generally attack pets, but may consume a pet that is injured or unable to walk away, she said, adding vultures primarily are scavengers.

A larger cause of concern would pet making contact with the birds’ waste, because the New World vulture species is not a member of the raptor family, rather the stork family.

Raptors are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and cannot be harmed or destroyed.

However, it has recently been determined that the seven species of the so called ‘New World’ vultures, (meaning they rely on smell to find food, while ‘Old World’ vultures depend on sight) are more closely related to storks than to the hawks and eagles with which they were originally grouped, according to the VDGIF.

Cromwell said the situation described will require a nonlethal approach because harming, killing or physically trapping the vultures to relocate them is illegal. She added that the vultures are only euthanized under certain circumstances by officials, and only then after special permits are granted.

Cromwell said the first step to relocate them is to remove attraction. Then, noise machines and sky dancers (the air-powered attention grabbers used by car dealerships), can be used.

Those efforts, coupled with persistence and community support, will make the area unappealing to vultures and they will eventually relocate, Cromwell said.

The DGIF said those experiencing conflicts are urged to call the Virginia wildlife conflict hotline at 1-855-571-9003, where staff can assist in efforts and give advice to avoid conflict.