Killing fields

Posted 9/21/22

NARROWSBURG, NY — Lorraine Bodens is getting to be an expert on the behavior of black vultures. She’s been observing a flock of them in her backyard for the last three years. She has …

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Killing fields


NARROWSBURG, NY — Lorraine Bodens is getting to be an expert on the behavior of black vultures. She’s been observing a flock of them in her backyard for the last three years. She has counted as many as 95 perched on the commercial building roof next door. She said that they didn’t give birth to young this year, like they did last year.

“I’m just sick of them,” she said. “And now they are killing each other.” Last week, Bodens had counted 11 birds killed and eaten in eight days. She said the group of four to five birds surround what looks like a sick bird, then take turns pecking at it. If the cornered bird tries to get away, they pull it back. For the rest of the day, they move and devour the carcass, leaving behind a piece of wing and feathers.

“The sound is terrible,” she said. And the stench is overwhelming. On Thursday morning, there had been three huddles.

Bodens has been trying to get assistance with these nuisance birds since last fall. Repeated calls to numerous agencies finally brought U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) personnel from Albany. Then she and her neighbors learned that there was not a whole lot that they could do about the damage and life disruption caused by the birds. The black vulture is protected by Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

You can scare them away, Kenneth Preusser of USDA Wildlife Services said last November, “but you cannot kill them.” Preusser suggested wire structures on the roof peak and the use of lasers and lights to make it less hospitable for the birds. Most importantly, the community needed to be very cautious about any kind of food source, such as an open dumpster.

Black vultures are associated with problems including agricultural and property damage, as well as health and safety concerns. Integrated solutions to address problems can include habitat manipulation, dispersal techniques and population management, according to the USDA website.

With the latest development of the birds killing each other, Bodens got the attention of the New York State Department of Conservation, after repeated calls to Preusser went unreturned.

On Friday, a DEC wildlife team arrived. They bagged up two fresh kills and placed them in their cooler. Then they collected the miscellaneous wings and feathers for disposal.

As the team went on to its next site in Tusten to do a rattlesnake assessment, members said that it would be two to three weeks before there would be any determination as to whether the birds were sick.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Avian influenza or bird flu refers to the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Bird flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with bird flu viruses have occurred.”

In Lafayette Township, NJ, a half-mile stretch of the Sussex Branch Trail was closed when 100 birds were found dead at the end of August. The USDA said that the cause of death was Asian bird flu. In that case, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has opted to leave the birds to decompose in place due to the rough terrain and the lack of personnel trained to handle that number of diseased birds.

Leaving the birds to be eaten and decompose could be repeated in Bodens’ yard as she waits to hear back from the DEC.

“I had guests this weekend,” Bodens said. “And I had to tell them not to walk in the backyard. Those birds have eaten my rugs and torn up the neighbor’s planters and garden. I’m sick of them.”

According to Wendy Rosenbach, Regional Public Participation Specialist, DEC Region 3, "when the bird carcasses arrive at the DEC Wildlife Health Unit lab in Delmar they are swabbed (oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs) and those swabs are submitted to Cornell Animal Health Diagnostic Center for Avian Influenza testing (PCR). Swabs that test “non-negative” are then forwarded to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory for confirmation and typing. There are a number of variables in this process that can affect the timing of the results which can range from one to four weeks.

There is not much that can be done related to remediation in wild birds, but for scavenging birds like vultures and eagles, it can be important to remove HPAI mortalities from the landscape so they are not available to be eaten.

Local chicken farmers should already be on high alert for HPAI from the outbreaks last winter and spring, they should be following strict biosecurity protocols to make sure their birds are not exposed to wild birds or wild bird feces.

For more information, go to:

This story was updated on September 24, with information supplied by the NYS DEC. 

black vultures, Department of Environmental Conservation, migratory birds, bird flu


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