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Stock-eating buzzards causing concern

Larry Woody • Apr 11, 2018 at 8:30 AM

The Tennessee Farm Bureau has announced a program in which members can obtain a special permit to kill buzzards that are preying on livestock.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency also can issue “depredation” permits that allow farmers, ranchers and home-owners to kill nuisance birds or animals on a case-by-case basis.

Buzzards are a protected species in Tennessee and in most cases it is against the law to harm them. However, exceptions can be made when they prey on livestock or otherwise create problems.

There is some debate about how serious the buzzard-predation problem is. Some farmers and ranchers insist vultures frequently kill and eat helpless new-born calves, sheep and other livestock if they get the opportunity.

Others claim buzzards feed only on animals that were born dead or died shortly after birth.

Even if a depredation permit is secured, there are still regulations about how buzzards can be killed; the use of poisons, for example, is prohibited because they may be eaten by other species.

Shooting is the most common way to control a nuisance species, but there are restrictions about where the shooting can take place – at a certain distance from residences or other occupied dwellings, and never from public roadways.

Shooting is limited in its effectiveness, removing only a relatively few birds from a large flock.

Because of their protected species and with no natural enemies, the buzzard population has greatly increased in many areas. Huge flocks are not uncommon, and the larger the population, the more intense the competition for food.

Although buzzards normally feed on carrion, there is no question they will kill and consume live animals under certain conditions. The only question seems to be, how common is the practice, especially concerning livestock.

Buzzards locate their food by smell. They area able to pick up faint traces of scent in the air several miles distant and hone in on the source. That includes scent from new-born animals.

Buzzards perform a beneficial service by cleaning up carrion. A good example is dead fish that wash up around boat ramps or are discarded by fishermen. Some ramps in the summer would be virtually unusable if not for buzzards’ clean-up work.

They likewise clean up dead animals alongside highways and in other public areas that create sanitation problems.

Until the relatively-recent reports of livestock predation there were no known problems caused by buzzards. But as their numbers increase, so do the chances of their creating issues that have to be dealt with.

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