The National Wildlife Research Center Gainesville Field Station is a 26-acre site with eight enclosures and two ½ acre flight pens, one of which is used to study vultures. Around feeding time, vultures in the area will gather near the flight pen hoping to get some of the food.
Wildlife Biologist Michael Avery holds a turkey vulture effigy. The vultures will abandon a roost if an effigy is hung upside down near it. The effigy is a taxidermic vulture. The birds have only left their roosts when real vultures are hung, plastic replicas have had little impact.
According to Michael Avery, a researcher at the Gainesville Wildlife Field Station, the birds’ urine and regurgitated fluids are causing damage to a local property.
“They will sit on the trucks or the vehicles, tear the weather stripping around the windows and windshield wipers,” Avery said. “Here in Gainesville, there’s a playground out hear Newnans Lake that they’ll sit on the play ground equipment and their excrement will cause those areas to be quickly unuseable.”
Vultures, a protected species, are causing these problems throughout the state and nation. The birds provide a vital benefit to the ecosystem by taking care of dead and decaying wildlife. That behavior may have undesirable side effects when the birds move into more heavily populated areas.
A vulture effigy is hung from an antenna at the Gainesville Regional Airport.
Gainesville Regional Airport operations manager Shaun Blevins said airports are working with biologists from the USDA to prevent vultures from causing the same accident the geese did.
“Vultures like open spaces and they also like antennas, and we have both here at the airport,” Blevins said. “Prior to 2010, we used to have both turkey vultures and black vultures here at the airport. They used to come here in the morning, fly right through the flight path, hang out here all day, and then towards the evening they would fly back out.”
Blevins suggests implementing multiple strategies. The airport currently has effigies of dead vultures hanging upside down, evil eye balloons that reflect the sun, air cannons and anti-perching devices, all designed to scare away vultures without causing any harm.
“The fortunate thing about the vultures is that it’s a cheap solution,” Blevins said.
He said the airport got the effigy from the USDA for about $300.
“So that is pretty cost effective to only spend $300 a year to have a vulture-free problem,” he said.
Adapting to the environment
The USDA said vulture numbers are increasing because they’re adapting to human activity.
Satchel Raye, owner of Satchel’s Pizza in Gainesville, said he called the USDA four years ago after vultures made a roost by a pond in his backyard.
“The vultures would come there and roost every year,” Raye said. “Hundreds and hundreds of them would come and they would be in the trees and in the roof and in the yard. They just made a mess.”
The USDA hung the vulture effigy in Raye’s tree, and after about a week, the vultures were gone. On the rare occasion they return, he said he scares them away by firing off a flare gun.
“The problem is that the vultures would just have to move to some other body of water, so if they’re not bothering me, it just means they’re bothering someone else,” Raye said.
Vultures have networks of roosts, so if scared off, they’ll move or create new roosts, according to Avery.
“Besides the problems that they cause for people, we have to keep in mind that they are an integral part of the natural communities of animals and plants,” Avery said. “Their function in the communities generally is that of a scavenger scooping up and eating dead animals. We should be cognizant of that as we look at ways to solve these problems when they come into contact with human activity.”
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a rule that would require media to get a permit before filming or photographing in wilderness areas, or else face a fine. The proposed rule has been met with opposition on the grounds that it violates First Amendment rights.