© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘A Very Aggressive, Nasty Bird’; Missouri Fights Deadly Black Vultures

 Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Black vultures are increasing their numbers in Missouri and preying on young livestock.

The Missouri Farm Bureau and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are partnering on an initiative to control the aggressive black vulture population.

Missouri is taking a hard-line approach to tackle a troubling increase in the state’s black vulture population.

It’s part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot program allowing some livestock owners to kill the birds, which have been moving north in recent years and causing problems.

”The birds have been basically killing young calves as they are born,” said Kelly Smith, of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The vultures also prey on other animals like lambs and sheep when they are having babies.

“They’re just a very aggressive, nasty bird,” Smith said.

In the past, farmers could only resort to nonlethal methods to get rid of them, like loud noises and bright lights. That’s because the vultures fall under the protection of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Now, the Missouri Farm Bureau will oversee the federal program in the state to allow farmers to kill some of the black vultures, despite their protection as migratory birds. The bureau will issue sub-permits to farmers based on the number of vultures in the area, how many livestock animals have been killed and how the county ranks in livestock production.

The problem in Missouri is mostly on the state border with Arkansas. But people have spotted them as far north as Hannibal and Palmyra, and state officials want to take action before it gets worse.

“Black vulture numbers are on the rise, causing significant depredation issues to Missouri cattle ranchers,” Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley said in a statement.

“This partnership is critical to solving these issues,” she added.

The Conservation Department says many people appreciated vultures in the early 1900s. They would effectively work as cleaners in slaughterhouses.

That changed when people thought they were spreading disease, leading to shooting, poisoning and trapping in the 1970s.

Conservationists say the numbers are rebounding because of climate and habitat change and more available food like roadkill. And that aggressive behavior is not just toward animals.

Smith remembers seeing a group of vultures, called a wake, attack a car.

“On the hood and on the roof,” he recalled, "and eating the plastic and rubber moldings around the windows.”

The pilot program to control the black vulture population also includes Kentucky and Tennessee.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit .

 Black vultures are moving further north in the past few years from their traditional home in the south.
/ Missouri Department of Conservation.
Missouri Department of Conservation.
Black vultures are moving further north in the past few years from their traditional home in the south.

Wayne Pratt is a veteran journalist who has made stops at radio stations, wire services and websites throughout North America. He comes to St. Louis Public Radio from Indianapolis, where he was assistant managing editor at Inside Indiana Business. Wayne also launched a local news operation at NPR member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana, and spent time as a correspondent for a network of more than 800 stations. His career has included positions in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Toronto, Ontario and Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne grew up near Ottawa, Ontario and moved to the United States in the mid-90s on a dare. Soon after, he met his wife and has been in the U.S. ever since.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.