Thursday, January 19, 2006

Vultures Unwanted

A neighborhood in Columbia, Maryland has become a roosting spot for turkey and black vultures, and their human residents are not happy about it. For example:

Lee Budar-Danoff, 39, has had to wash her silver Honda four times in the past week because the voluminous vulture excrement deposited on the windshield made it difficult to see. Nearby roofs are stained with green-and-white splotches of feces. And the birds terrify some youngsters.

"I want them to fly away right now!" said her 3-year-old daughter, Noelani. "They're not my friends."

Budar-Danoff, who is also a board member, said she knows vultures mostly scavenge for carrion along nearby Route 175, but a part of her still worries that the birds might somehow end up hunting live prey.

"If their food supply goes away, what are they going to turn to?" she said, glancing down at Bear, her excitable Lhasa apso. "Small dogs and cats could be at risk." Wildlife experts, though, said vultures almost never eat live animals.

While some residents worry about the vultures eating live animals, that really should not be a concern. Vultures are not equipped with the powerful talons that allow hawks to kill; rather, vultures are specially adapted to scavenge. And there is certainly plenty of material for scavenging. Our suburbs are already overpopulated with deer, plus the population of squirrels, raccons, opussoms, and other birds gives the vultures plenty of material to eat, whether they die naturally or in car accidents. So there is little to worry about on that score.

That still leaves the inconvenient aspects of the vulture roosts. Unfortunately there likely is little that will actually work to solve this problem. If the example of Canada goose control gives any indication, harrassment like that suggested in the article would just make the vultures move somewhere else, where they would become as much of a nuisance.

The Canada goose is actually a good parallel because it is another case in which the spread of human developments has created a situation in which the "pest" population can also expand. The geese have taken advantage of the creation of large grassy areas and artificial ponds in public parks and industrial parks. Meanwhile the vultures have preyed on the many carcasses created by our highways and the surplus of living animals that have few predators. At the same time humans have taken more and more of possible nesting and roosting territory away from these birds. So it is no wonder that humans and birds keep rubbing elbows, and it should be no surprise if this situation continues, and in fact continues to increase.