Black vultures are protected by a 1918 act

To the Editor:

I am responding to Brian Gareau’s letter and the related story about the vultures in Westmere.  First, a correction.  The vultures in question are not turkey vultures, but black vultures, a related species.  All the pictures accompanying articles in The Enterprise as well as in an Albany paper showed black vultures.

Unlike turkey vultures, black vultures are newcomers to the area.  The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, covering the years 1980 to 1985, doesn’t list black vultures, but they make an appearance in the second atlas, covering 2000 to 2005.

In the second atlas census period, black vultures were found mostly in the lower Hudson Valley.  They have been making inroads ever since, joining other formerly “southern” species like northern mockingbird, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, and northern cardinal.

I saw my first black vultures in Guilderland in 2008, and have pretty much seen them with increasing frequency every year thereafter.  Vultures may be viewed as ugly, dirty, and ominous, but, as your article points out, they perform a valuable service cleaning up road kill and other dead animals.

Mr. Gareau wrote to excoriate Supervisor Ken Runion for not doing anything about the vultures.  How petty to try to make a political issue over something that has nothing to do with politics.

Sorry, Mr. Gareau, if your party were in office, it wouldn’t be able to do anything about the vultures, either.  You see, black vultures are protected. They are one of over 800 species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The act makes it unlawful at any time, by any means, or in any manner to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, or sell birds on the list of protected species.

Note that is doesn’t say you can’t feed birds.  So, unless Mr. Runion would like to ban bird feeding in the town of Guilderland, there really is nothing he can do.

Of course, black vultures aren’t your everyday goldfinch or chickadee that comes to our backyard bird feeders, but protection is protection.

But this is where things could have been handled in a better manner.  The kind-hearted woman who fed these vultures raw meat was trying to help out three vultures that were injured.  What she should have done was call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for help.

She also should have contacted the police to send an officer to explain the proper use of firearms to the neighborhood kids with the pellet guns, and their parents, and explain that taking potshots at vultures is against the law.

And her neighbors shouldn’t put the blame solely on her.  Black vultures were reported to the local birding Yahoo Group, HMBirds, at various times this winter.  In fact, 14 were reported at a Dumpster behind a Western Avenue business just after Christmas.

With luck, these freeloading vultures will move on when she stops feeding them.  But next winter don’t be surprised if they come back looking for more.  These birds are intelligent enough to know a good thing when they see it.

Larry Alden

Editor’s note: We appreciate having the vultures correctly identified.

We’ve now looked at last week’s pictures with an informed eye and see the vultures have black heads (not red, like a turkey vulture) and white legs.