Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Everglades Park Battles Vandalizing Vultures - They Prefer Fords

Everglades National Park seems to have won its battle with a gang of bald-headed vehicle vandals who have a taste for rotting flesh and windshield wipers - for now.

The vandals are black vultures, who for years have been tearing up the rubber moldings on visitors’ cars parked at the Anhinga Trail, near the park’s eastern entrance in Homestead, Fla.

With complaints mounting in the past year, park officials decided several months ago to hang two dead vultures in the parking lot near the birds’ hangout, a tactic that has worked to disperse roosting vultures in other areas.

Wildlife experts say that, while vultures like to feast on the carcasses of other animals, they don’t seem to enjoy hanging around a fallen comrade. The method of hanging dead vultures or effigies has been on the rise as the populations of black vultures and turkey vultures increase along the Eastern Seaboard, according to Eric Tillman, a wildlife biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center in Gainesville, Fla., who is assisting officials in the Everglades.

“We don’t quite understand the reason why they don’t like it,” Tillman said of the effigies. “It has to be hung from its feet and it has to move in the wind. Maybe the unnatural position helps to create a scary effect.”

Everglades officials said the dead vultures seem to have scared off a number of the birds in the colony. They recently took the effigies down. At this time of year, the vultures migrate out the park.

During the past few months, the effigies had mixed results. One morning, vultures were pecking and pooping away on a Jetta owned by Rod Gardner, 82, of Salisbury, MD, a snowbird who visits the Everglades every year to go birdwatching.

“This is the first time I’ve seen them like this in 25 years,” Gardner said of the vultures, who were jumping on his roof about ten feet from the hanging dead vulture. “They dirty up my car and they’re ugly.”

According to Everglades National Park spokeswoman Linda Friar, vultures were first observed pecking at cars in the lot in 2002, but the behavior escalated last year. The park received a legal claim for $700 in damages, seven formal complaints and a number of verbal complaints in the past year, she said.

Park officials tried, unsuccessfully, to disperse the vultures with water cannons and other measures before resorting to the effigies. In December, they strung up the two dead vultures, and posted signs warning visitors that the vultures may damage cars.

The dead vultures were gathered from nearby airports and landfills where they pose health and safety problems, according to Tony Duffiney, acting state director of the Florida Wildlife Services Program. The birds are shot with permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to conduct limited lethal control.

Tillman said it is unclear why the vultures like to chomp on rubber car parts.

“They seem to enjoy tearing things to pieces,” Tillman said. “Some people think it’s like tearing apart a carcass. As near as we can tell they are just tearing it apart, not consuming it.”

Park officials are now considering a plan to make car covers or tarps available for free to visitors, to be returned to a bin when they leave.

Park Ranger Olmedo Manduley said he has seen several vultures tear a tarp off a car and take off down the street with it.

The vultures also have discerning tastes.

“They prefer the Fords,” Manduley explained. “They don’t like the Chevys, except the GMC trucks.”

With wingspans of up to five feet and weighing about five pounds, the black vulture is a grunting, gregarious, communal bird native to the southern United States. While the scavengers tend to have a reputation for being filthy, scientists say they remove harmful bacteria and toxins from the environment. They are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal to kill one without a permit.

Tillman said vulture populations are on the rise in urban areas. He receives about 100 complaints a year from Florida home associations, towns and others trying to cope with large roosts – which can reach up to 1,000 birds. They can tear through screens and leave a trail of unwanted whitewash. And they are a growing problem near landfills and airports, with the number of airplane birdstrikes on the rise.

Everglades Park Ranger Leon Howell said the park needs to be mindful of the mission of national parks to protect and preserve animals and landscapes, and take care not to further diminish the vulture’s already unsavory reputation with the public. Unlike the park’s famous flamingoes, herons and egrets, the vulture does not grace the T-shirts, cups and posters on sale in the gift shops.


  1. beautiful pictures, Im sure they are attracted by the warmth and smell of the rubber...I assume the highly acidic gastric juices in thier stomaches take care of the rubber injested.

    Spraying the rubber parts with "clipper cooler" should solve the problem....they could stock it in the gift shop...LOL

  2. I bet the rangers didn't think of THAT solution!

  3. What's great about tours like this is that kids get to enjoy the beautiful scenery while learning a lot about the ecosystem.