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From pigeons to vultures, Upshur County takes on more nuisance birds

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Tom Elliott, district supervisor with USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, discusses a vulture damage management proposal for the Victoria Hill neighborhood.

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Commission voted Thursday to spend up to $5,542 over the next year to battle invading vultures in the Victoria Hill neighborhood. This comes after the county installed pigeon spike strips on the Upshur County Courthouse and paid for cleaning of the dome to mitigate pigeon damage.

But for more than a year, black vultures have invaded the area around Victoria Hill, roosting on people’s roofs and in trees and causing much damage.

Black vultures are a federally protected species, according to Thomas Elliott, wildlife biologist and district supervisor with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services.

“Because it is a bird of prey, it is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said.

Black vultures are not native to the United States but started coming from Central and South America about 45 years ago into Texas and have made their way up the east coast.

“It’s not invasive — invasive means a human introduced it — but it is invading,” he said.

In the last 15 years, West Virginia has been getting more or less invaded by this bird,” he said. “It started more on the eastern side of the state and now it’s gone all over.”

Although turkey vultures – known by their red heads – are more scavengers, black vultures are predatory with some scavenging tendencies.

“They like to kill livestock; they kill pets,” he said. “They are very destructive to people’s property. They like to get on houses, buildings, cars and rip the rubber trim off.”

The black vultures will also tear shingles off a roof, and will pick at swimming pool covers.

“They are a very destructive bird and there is not really any true predator for them,” he said. “You don’t need to have a lot of them. They will run pets off. We have had cows where they are predating on cattle, sheep and goats.”

Black turkey vultures find shelter in and around people’s houses in residential areas.

Elliott said his agency specializes in wildlife damage and calls about black turkey vultures have increased.

Commissioner Terry Cutright asked, “Are they actually capable of killing an animal the size of a deer?”

Elliott said they can but will target weaker animals.

For example, the black turkey vulture will attack when a livestock mother is giving birth and kill newborn and the mother will die too if the vultures turn their attention to her after they kill the newborn.

In the past week Elliott has heard stories about people’s cats, dogs and even a litter of puppies.

“Six to 10 vultures more or less intimidated mother dog away from the litter and killed all the pups,” he said.

County administrator Carrie Wallace asked what USDA APHIS does to remove the birds.

Elliott said they encourage people to use nonlethal harassment which does not require a permit but must be done continuously to persuade the black vultures to move elsewhere.

This includes effigies which most often work on newer populations of birds and may not work on established populations that have been in an area for an extended time.

“Certain birds will respond to that,” he said. “When that population has been there for a period of time, they are not as easy to intimidate.”

APHIS is participating in a nationwide research project.

“We are doing some work where we try to remove some of them but put tracking devices on them,” he said. “That allows us to figure out the population we are dealing with as well as the movement area,” he said.

One result of this is that it has been determined if people think there are 100 in their backyard, it’s actually three to five times that.

The black vultures rotate and new birds will come in while the others go elsewhere every day or so.

“We can’t get them all but we are wanting to bust up the rotation so they will disperse in smaller numbers,” he said.

The quote Elliott provides is for up to 12 months of work if needed.

“We want to keep disturbing them and breaking them up,” he said.

Elliott said the quote includes time, mileage and supplies. Under the contract, his agency will trap the vultures with a decoy trap and hang effigies.

A normal size vulture trap is 30 by 10 feet and can catch up to several hundred after it is pre-baited and they get to used to it.

“If we get done before the quote is reached, then you don’t get charged for that extra amount,” he said.

Cutright noted the irony of paying a federal agency to remove the predatory birds that are protected by the federal government.

“It’s the federal government that is protecting them and the federal government that is going to take care of them for us a fee,” he said.

Elliott said he understood.

“We have started figuring out where the birds are traveling and we have already found that we have birds that are traveling as much as 100 to 120 miles away and making a rotation,” he said.

“I will tell you as sure as we can come out and help you, black vultures may always be around,” he said. “The idea is to try to bust it up. When you are dealing with wildlife, there is not a click of the fingers fix. “We are wanting to make them feel that is a bad area,” he said. “I’ve had some places they never come back. I’ve had other places they try to come back.”

Wallace asked if the quote would include working in other neighborhoods if the black vultures move from Victoria Hill and settle elsewhere.

Elliott said, “That quote is more or less targeting the vultures in that part of Upshur County. If that roost moves down a couple miles and it’s still in the county and you say ‘let’s go after that again,’ we are going to going to after that.”

The payments can be made quarterly which Cutright noted would be about $1,400 each.

“We have to do something up there,” he said. “It’s tearing people’s houses up.”

Cutright moved to enter into a contract with Elliott’s agency and pay quarterly which was seconded by commissioner Kristie Tenney and passed.

Elliott said he will write up a cooperative service agreement to be signed by commission and start in the next few days.

In other business, the commission:

• approved the transfer of James Lough to the vacant position of case manager at Community Corrections and eliminating his current part-time position of case aid. His rate of pay will be $12.24 per hour at the next pay period.

• approved the hire of Andrew Pinkney as a contract drug court counselor to be scheduled as needed at the rate of $30 per hour, pending background check.

• approved Charles R. Loar, Carolyn Loar, Ann L. Bush, Haley Graveley, Julie Tenney, Jennifer Kesling and Casey Hollingsworth as volunteers for the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility.

• approved the Upshur Animal Control Facility Board of Pharmacy application for fiscal year 20.