ON ATTRACTING VULTURES:
Is it possible (or advisible) to do anything to attract turkey vultures to a particular area? I like them and would like to see them on my property more often.
Yes, it is not only possible, but a most enjoyable activity. I would, however, only advise attracting vultures if you have no neighbors that would be angered by their presence.
You can establish your own "vulture restaurant" by placing any dead meat in an open area (leach field, pasture, etc.)
I collect roadkill for this purpose. I keep a large tupperware in my car for squirrels and rabbits, and use a pickup truck for deer. It depends on how far you want to go. If this disgusts you, you can use raw meat from the grocer, but it gets very expensive, and shouldn't be fed often, as it does not have all the hair, fat, and bones that provide necessary nutrients for the vultures. There are no problems, as some might worry, with providing a continual source of food for the vultures, if your restaurant evolves to this point. The vultures are opportunists, and will never become reliant on your food source. If you take it away, they will leave. Oh, one thing--If you do not have a suitable roost for the vultures, they will likely make use of your house. Though there are no health problems associated with their feces (in fact, it is used to sterilize their legs!) it can get messy, and they could take an interest in recreationally chewing your weather-stripping, or other intriguing parts of your house. So, enjoy! Vultures are amazing, intelligent, and beautiful animals. They will provide you with tons of enjoyment!
PS: (after Halloween, rotting pumpkins are also a favorite of the black vulture.)
When feeding vultures in my yard, do you advise that I put the food right on the ground, or should it be elevated somewhat to keep other animals from getting at it?
You can place the meat right on the ground, if you would like. Dogs or other animals may help themselves at night, but the only real problem would be if they started carrying bits off to visit your neighbors. This can be solved with a fence. So far, I don't know of any vulture restaurants in this country that elevate their meat.
What sort of roost do turkey vultures prefer?
Any trees with thick, unvegetated branches will be acceptable roosts. The vultures like to be high up for safety, and also are very communal in their roosting behavior, so a dead snag that can accommodate a number of vultures is an extra bonus.
ON NOT ATTRACTING VULTURES
Vultures have taken up roost on my house or in my neighborhood. How do I get rid of them?
It is first important to understand what makes your area attractive. This is not necessarily a food source. Vultures are highly social animals, and they prefer to roost in large colonies. Areas that are conducive to this include the stereotypical dead tree, cell phone towers, and even rooftops or porch coverings. Removal of such trees is not advisable for several reasons: 1) these trees are often habitats for other wildlife, and 2) without the trees, the vultures may move to rooftops, a far less desirable situation. The best way to discourage vultures is to create an inhospitable environment. On the household level, you can hang shiny, flapping objects to frighten the birds, frequently run outside, clapping and shouting, or set off firecrackers. (Note that, after a while, the vultures may discover that shiny flapping objects pose them no risk, at which point these will rather become fun toys. So it is best to initially accompany them with noise or blasts from a garden hose, and to be careful not to hang them somewhere that you would find to be a particularly undesirable secondary vulture roost) On the community level, vulture discouragement is often accomplished with periodic cannon shots, or other noise solutions. KILLING THE BIRDS IS NOT A SOLUTION. Why? Dead vultures will create a very unsanitary environment, and will attract ground-bound scavengers such as coyotes and foxes, which would pose much more of a risk to your family. The carcasses might even attract a replacement population of new vultures. And please keep in mind, there is NO way of poisoning a vulture without unintentionally targeting large quantities of other wildlife. Unfortunately, having adapted very well to the growing human population, vultures are becoming more difficult to discourage from residential areas. This does not mean that their populations will rise to any dangerous level, however. Like all other wild animals, they are controlled by natural population fluctuations. If the birds are roosting in trees or on cell phone towers, it is best to leave them in peace. They are wonderful animals to have around, as they keep the environment clean and healthy. You will even find that they can be beatiful in flight, and fun to observe.
Vultures are roosting on my deck. Should I be worried about diseases or bacteria from their poop?
Because of the nature of their diets and digestive system, vulture poop is actually a sanitizer. Amazing! Their stomachs contain digestive acids that kill virtually all bacteria and viruses, and there is even evidence for the claim that they can consume meat infected with anthrax, destroying the virus in their digestive system. After stepping in a carcass, they will often expel their waste, which is white and fluid, onto their legs. The uric acid kills any bacteria that they may have picked up from the dead animal. It is not fun to have vulture waste to clean off your deck. But it comes up quickly and easily with a hose and scrub brush, and you can take comfort in the fact that coming in contact with vulture "whitewash" will not endanger your health.
See the above question for tips on discouraging vultures from roosting on your porch.
I have a small dog. I worry about letting her out in the yard alone because there are vultures overhead. Will the vultures bother her? No, the vultures are not at all interested in moving animals. They will only descend on something that is lying still, and will only approach it if it smells decayed. These peaceful animals will pose no risk to your animals, children, or infants.
What do you call a group of vultures?
A group of vultures is called a "Venue". Vultures circling on thermals of hot air are also referred to as a "Kettle", because they resemble the rising bubbles in a boiling pot of water.
My husband says vultures don't have any sense of smell. I say they can and do smell things. Who is correct?
Congratulations! You are both right! African and Asian vultures, being descended from hawks and eagles, have no sense of smell. This is characteristic of the majority of the bird kingdom. American vultures, however, including the turkey vulture, black vulture, Andean and California condor, and king vulture, CAN smell. The turkey vulture, in particular, has a very well developed sense of smell. These birds are descended from storks and ibises. The turkey vulture has shown itself, in many tests, to use its sense of smell as a predominant means of finding food. Scientists even used turkey vultures to find a leak in a many-mile-long gas pipeline, by pumping a form of gas through the lines that smelled like carrion.
Do vultures find their food by smell or sight?
All vultures find food with their incredible eyesight, but new world (American) vultures have a keenly developed sense of smell, on which they rely for most of their foraging. Turkey vultures use an even combination of smell and sight--whichever reaches them first. The rest of the new world vultures rely partially on smell and more on eyesight, or the activities of turkey vultures. Old world vultures have no sense of smell, and rely solely on eyesight.
See above question for further elaboration.
Will a vulture avoid decaying meat if it has gone beyond a point of no return? Is there anything that a vulture would turn up his beak at?
Yes, vultures WILL turn their nose up at carcasses in advanced stages of putrefaction. They much prefer their meat fresh, but often must wait a few days for the hide to soften enough for their weak beaks to penetrate it. African vultures have much stronger beaks, and henceforth the ability to be much more picky about their diets.
I have a farm and I see vultures on many occasions, especially if I have lost a calf. However, it seems that they will not eat a dog's carcass. There have been two on my road for a while and neither has been touched by vultures. Why do they choose to leave dog carcasses alone?
Turkey vultures, contrary to popular assumption, do not eat absolutely anything placed in front of them. Predatory animals (and scavengers as well) typically feed on herbivorous animals. The flesh of an herbivore is much tastier. In short, turkey vultures will often bypass carcasses of cats, dogs, and coyotes. They will, however, eat such carcasses in the absence of more desirable food.
Do vultures scavenge at night?
No, vultures have very poor vision in the dark.
How long can a turkey vulture live?
The oldest known turkey vulture, Tolouse, is 33 years old, and lives at the San Francisco Zoo.
Would vultures circle a moving object, like a vehicle carrying a dead or dying animal?
Contrary to popular belief, vultures do not circle over dead or dying animals. They soar on thermals of warm, rising air. This allows them to best conserve their energy in flight. After rising on the thermal, they glide as far as possible before they need to gain altitude again. You will certainly see vultures in the air over a carcass, but their descent is rapid. They will not just hang out in the air looking at it... They want to eat it. In parts of Asia and Africa, vultures have become very brave and comfortable in the presence of humans. In these areas, they sit around rooftops, markets,and garbage dumps, and have much the same presence among the population as the gulls have among us. In such areas, they will follow carts full of food or garbage.
What exactly does a turkey vulture smell when an animal is dead or dying? Blood?
Vultures are attracted to the scent of mercaptan, the gas produced by the beginnings of decay. This gas was used by a piping company that was trying to find a leak in their gas lines. They pumped it through the lines, and where it leaked through, turkey vultures began to congregate.
How do you determine the gender of a turkey vulture?
Male and female turkey vultures do not exhibit any visible differences. They are exactly alike in color, and do not differ significantly in size or weight. Gender cannot be determined without a medical procedure.
I found an abandoned baby vulture. What do I do?
Take a careful look at the situation before you jump to conclusions. Remember: American vultures DO NOT nest in trees. They lay their eggs on the ground, in caves, hollow logs or other cavelike structures. Sometimes the nest (which doesn't appear nestlike at all) will be a simple dip, scratched into the ground, seemingly out in the open. Many hikers who happen upon such a nest believe that they have discovered a hawk that has fallen from its nest. If you see any evidence of nesting activity, you have probably stumbled on a nestling waiting for his parents to return with food. The best clue that you have discovered a nest is the presence of multiple babies. Please leave them be, unless one or more appear visibly injured. If you are confident that your baby vulture is hurt or truly lost, pick him up carefully and place him in a covered box lined with towels. Contact a local wildlife rehabilitator immediately. The bird will require special care from a trained professional, and it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to posess or care for a vulture for more than 24 hours.
Is it okay to handle a vulture egg if the mother is not around?
No, you should never disturb a nest, whether the parents are present or not. However, if you know of someone who has unwittingly removed an egg from its place, it is possible to replace it in hopes that the parents will return to continue incubating the egg. Some vultures are very sensitive to nest disturbances, but others will remain devoted to their egg until it has been eaten or destroyed.
Can I raise a tukey vulture to keep as a pet?
Many years ago the United States entered into several International Treaties with Canada, Mexico, and all of the countries of Central and South America. These treaties were designed to protect all migratory birds from being killed, harmed, harrassed, or captured. By law, a person cannot keep one in captivity. The only exceptions are zoos (which must posess special permits for each animal they hold) and wildlife rehabilitators, who can obtain permits to keep a permanently injured vulture for educational or surrogate purposes. In short, no, you cannot keep a vulture as a personal pet. However, you can find many ways to interact with vultures close-up. Try to find a local wildlife center with a non-releasable vulture, where you can volunteer. Of, if you are truly passionate about animals, consider becoming a rehabilitator yourself! There are very few rehabilitators who are willing to care for vultures.