MDC, USDA needs public’s help with black vulture study

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on a multi-year study to better mediate conflicts with black vultures. Landowners, cattle ranchers, birdwatchers, and others may contribute to the study by reporting sightings of black vultures marked with tags on their wing.

Black vultures play an important role in nature by eating carrion, or dead animals. Vultures have acids in their stomachs that metabolize diseases, such as rabies, and remove them from the environment. However, their aggressive nature can cause issues for cattle ranchers and other livestock producers. The species can prey on calves, vulnerable cows, and smaller farm animals such as lambs and goats. Black vultures can also cause property damage to vehicles, boats, and houses.

“Black vulture populations in Missouri have been growing and expanding in recent years,” said MDC Wildlife Management Coordinator Alan Leary. “As a result, more landowners are reporting conflicts with them.”

Black vultures are known to tear windshield wipers off vehicles, damage rubber seals around the windows, and scratch the paint. They can also tear up vinyl upholstery on boats, pool covers, canvas awnings, or other exposed rubber materials. Black vultures can rip shingles off roofs and peel off window caulking and vent seals.

In an effort to track black vultures and test management tools, 89 black vultures near the Missouri-Arkansas border were captured this spring and marked with a white tag on their right wing. Each tag has a letter and number (i.e., A47 or C20). The tags may be visible from below while the birds soar or while birds are perched. Twenty-eight vultures were also equipped with radio transmitters to track their daily movements.

The purpose of the study is to better understand black vulture movements, human-black vulture conflict, and to test vulture management tools.

“While there are a number of management tools we can recommend to people experiencing vulture conflict issues, we don’t fully know how the use of these tools may affect their behavior and movements,” said USDA Wildlife Biologist Eric Tillman. “Do they adjust their home range, alter their roosting network, or permanently abandon the conflict area? Or do they just return after management is completed? With this study, we hope to answer some of those questions.”

All sightings of tagged black vultures, either observed alive or taken by a landowner with the appropriate permit, should be reported to the United States Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Lab online at Sightings can also be emailed to USDA Wildlife Biologist Eric Tillman at


Though turkey vultures are much more common in Missouri, black vultures are expanding their range northward, and sightings of them are increasing. As of 2021, their population estimate was around 12,000.

Black vultures have a large, black body with a bare, black head. When seen flying, black vultures wings are held nearly horizontal. This species frequently flies higher than turkey vultures, following and watching them from above.

Turkey vultures also have large, black bodies, but are identifiable by their bare, red head. When soaring, turkey vultures hold their wings in a V position.

Turkey vultures look for carrion by riding wind currents and searching for smells to investigate for food. Black vultures cannot smell as well as turkey vultures, and they rely more on sight to find food. Black vultures will commonly follow turkey vultures to find food, and groups of them aggressively drive off the turkey vultures.


Black vultures will occasionally prey on newborn livestock, sick cows, or cows that are giving birth. 

Livestock producers may use non-lethal techniques to deter black vultures, such as loud noises, spraying with a garden hose, or using pyrotechnics without a permit. Removing animal carcasses and cutting down dead tree snags and other possible roosting sites can also discourage black vultures.

Black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and may not be killed without a depredation permit obtained from the Missouri Farm Bureau. To apply for a depredation permit, landowners may visit To learn more about black vulture mitigation options, visit

Landowners can report black vulture livestock loss and request assistance by contacting USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Wildlife Services by calling 573-449-3033 ext. 10. 

To report property damage caused by black vultures, contact MDC Wildlife Management Coordinator Alan Leary at 573-522-4115 ext. 3693.