Woodstock residents are seeing more vultures circling overhead or roosting in large trees this year than in the past.
Vultures are scavengers, usually eating the remains of dead animals and thereby cleaning up the area environment. The large birds, however, can become a nuisance. They can damage property and their feces can be odorous, as well as a health hazard.
They also can prey on farmer’s livestock and vulnerable animals, such as ones that are young or may be hurt or sick.
Lifelong Woodstock resident Bill Gardner, who owns a farm on Fravel Road, knows that all too well.
“This is more than we are used to seeing. They are bad,” Gardner said. “I lost three calves to vultures last spring.”
A calf can bring anywhere from $500 to $1,000 each, depending on its age when sold, he said.
Gardner, who owns Bill’s Transmission and Auto Repair on his farm, recalled one incident when a customer called him to tell him vultures were attacking a calf.
Gardner found a cow standing over a dead newborn calf. He figures the cow was trying to protect the calf from the attacking vultures and stepped on the calf, hurting it. The vultures then killed the calf.
He said he wishes he had a video to show how aggressive the birds can be and hopes that they are gone soon.
“We have no way of protecting ourselves,” Gardner said.
The vultures, both turkey vultures and black vultures, are seen on and off all year long in the community. They usually start to appear when the temperatures cool down in the mornings and evenings. Town administrators have received six complaints in the last six months, up from the one to two calls in previous years.
“The town and its residents deal with it the best they can,” said Woodstock Town Manager Angela Clem.
Each complaint is recorded and sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Divisions of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as well as Wildlife Services, she said.
The USDA has been to Woodstock scouting the area, said Chad Fox, wildlife biologist and supervisor with USDA Wildlife Services. As soon as a contract with the town is signed, they will come in to address the vultures, he said. Fox estimated that could be by the end of September or beginning October.
“We will use pyrotechnics designed for dispersing birds,” he said.
Fox anticipates it could take a couple weeks and work will be done mainly in the evening hours prior to dark as the birds come to roost. It is possible the vultures could return and wildlife officers will need to come back.
The agency estimates there are a couple hundred vultures in the area, he said. During the scouting they were seen in more than half a dozen areas. The agency will need approval to work on private lands where the birds may be roosting.
Each situation is reviewed for a best possible solution, often as simple as cleaning up or properly enclosing trash or discontinuing outside feeding of animals, but that does not appear to be the case in Woodstock, Fox said.
“Sometimes it’s a certain group of trees. They like mature trees, like a mature white pine. That may be what is attracting them,” he said.
Vultures are a federally protected species and a permit is required to trap, kill, relocate or handle vultures or their eggs.
Woodstock is not alone. Vultures are migratory so other communities in the area are experiencing the same issue. Three years ago, Front Royal attempted to deal with the birds by using a noise cannon but had to stop its use when residents complained of the noise.