Black Vultures Protected by Federal Law Could Be ‘Eating Cows Alive’ in the Midwest

Typically, vultures feed on the carcasses of dead animals, but recent reports indicate that they have begun “eating cows alive” across the Midwest, according to Sarah Bowman of the Indianapolis Star.

“The black vultures, now that’s a very, very aggressive bird,” John Hardin, a cattle farmer in southern Indiana, tells the Indianapolis Star. “They’re basically waiting for the cows and calves to die or try to kill them.”

With its dark, sooty plumage, bald black heads, and short tails, the American black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is easily identifiable. Also known as a carrion crow, the big raptor ranges in length from 22 to 29 inches and has a wingspan of approximately five feet.

In comparison to the turkey vulture, black vultures are more assertive and may prey on living creatures such as calves, lambs, piglets, and other small mammals. According to Newser’s Kate Seamons, Harding said the vultures frequently peck at a calf’s nose, navel, face, and mouth.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects black vultures, making it illegal to capture, kill, sell, trade, or transport migratory bird species without the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s license (FWS).

Without a permit, harming vultures can result in jail time or hefty fines. The Indiana Farm Bureau launched a program in August that will allow farmers to obtain a license to hunt birds of prey in an effort to assist farmers in preserving their cattle, according to Newser.

According to Jim Robbins of the New York Times, the Indiana Farm Bureau will pay the $100 permit fee and go through the lengthy process required to gain federal authority to kill birds that are causing damage. According to Bob McNally of Outdoor Life, black vulture culling efforts began in Kentucky and Tennessee but have since grown to include Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Former Cornell Lab of Ornithology Director John W. Fitzpatrick, however, believes the vultures are not targeting healthy calves and is opposed to granting permits to kill the protected species, according to the New York Times. Fitzpatrick added that the concept of black vultures being predatory requires additional research.