Citizens express vulture concerns

‘The economic impact is a big deal’

By Nicholas Elmes -

An informational meeting on vultures arranged by Walnut Cove ended up highlighting ongoing concerns over the presence of the birds at the town’s southern border.

Town Manager Bobby Miller had invited ornithologists John Gerwin and Lynn Mosley to share their knowledge on the birds with the general public, but after close to an hour of information on the birds, citizens of Walnut Cove shared their experiences with the birds over the past year.

One resident, Sherry Griner said she had dealt with the birds before they became a larger problem for the town, noting that she had spent hundreds of dollars trying to get the birds to leave her house alone.

“I tried to get some help from the town because they destroyed our home,” Griner said. “We spent about $500 dollars to get them out. We took up the cat food we had out, we put balloons out, we used air horns, we used loud music, we sprayed them with a water hose. Finally they brought the effigy bird in. I had about 20 to 30 before that. After that I had about 50 in my back yard. They would line up on my fence and they would take turns doing a ritual around this effigy buzzard. It was like they were worshiping the dead carcas.

“They finally did leave but it was truly a nightmare,” she said. “They would march down my street and turn right at my house. It was like they were taunting us.”

Griner said it was especially frustrating because by law she could do nothing to the birds since they are federally protected.

“If you damage my property, you can go to jail over it,” she added. “I had no recourse, I was at my wit’s end.”

Other speakers explained they had spent thousands of dollars replacing roofs in the downtown area after the birds moved into the area last summer.

Gerwin said many roofing tiles and rubber rood treatments continued petroleum chemicals that smelled like rotting meat to the birds.

“So they come and tear it up thinking it is rotting flesh,” he said.

Gerwin expressed surprise at the number of birds in the Walnut Cove area, especially given their proximity to people.

“They are going to have to learn boundaries,” he said.

Gerwin said he could not say why the birds had chosen Walnut Cove, but did warn that roosts could grow to over 1,000 birds.

“Once a spot is selected then it stays,” he said. “Some roosts have gone on for generations. Some are over 100 years old. They simply keep coming back. Vultures live for 16 to 25 years. You have to break the cycle.”

Griner said she worried about how the presence of the vultures would impact property values.

“If the federal government is protecting them then they should reimburse us,” she said.

“There have been cases where they have done that,” said Gerwin. “The economic impact is a big deal. I think this is something you could get traction with at the legislative level. It is to the point where you need some help, maybe even at the federal level. It is the only situation I know of like this in the whole state. I am going to pass it on.”

More facts vultures

Gerwin said there were three species of vultures, black, turkey and the California condor, in the United States, noting that vultures were found around the world and were respected in a variety of cultures for their ability to help clean up dead animals and even humans.

“Vultures have been on the good side of things and on the bad side,” he said, noting that the term buzzard actually refers to a type of hawk and not the vulture family.

Gerwin said vulture populations throughout the eastern United States has increased significantly over the past 20 years, adding that vultures can be found from Canada all the way down to the tip of South America and noting that both black and turkey vultures were migratory birds.

He said the turkey vulture is one of the most efficient fliers.

“Once they get going they just glide,” he said. “The black vultures have to work a little harder. The turkey vultures are the ones who can smell really well as well.”

He said both birds nest on the ground and usually lay two eggs each year, noting that it takes about three months after hatching before a young vulture will start to try to fly.

“They will hang around with the parents for up to eight months,” he said. “Then they hang around as extended families.”

He said black vultures are especially social, spending a good portion of their day in together in roosting areas.

“Ninety percent of the time they hang out near the roost,” said Gerwin. “We think they are sharing information. We think they are extended families and taking care of each other. There are definitely leaders and followers. The birds will typically feed in the morning then return to the roost before going out to look for more in the afternoon.

“They eat dead stuff, often at farms,” he said. “Black vultures will also go after pet food and they will go after garbage. They are pretty industrious. Black vultures are more aggressive.”

He said there have been reports of them going after a new born piglet in Virginia.

“Their stomachs are designed to kill bacteria and viruses,” he added. “They actually are helping to prevent the spread of disease. They can kill both anthrax and hog cholera in their stomach.”

He added that there is a national vulture day in September and that one community in Ohio has a vulture festival to celebrate when the birds return from their southern migration.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

‘The economic impact is a big deal’

By Nicholas Elmes

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