I hate black vultures, and not because I generally hate birds — I have a professional hatred for black vultures.
Back when I was a hill staffer, constituents contacted the office I worked for through the local agriculture county extension agent complaining about black vultures eating their livestock. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t vultures only eat dead animals? No. Black vultures also eat live ones, especially cute newborns.
They team up in packs, take out the eyes and other aspects of the face of their victim, and boom — dinner is served.
Black vultures are actually protected by a treaty the United States stupidly signed with a bunch of other countries. The logic of course being that we wanted to give these non-endangered violent birds with few (if any) known predators a license to kill other animals across the globe while simultaneously protecting the non-endangered ones that are logos for outdoor clothing companies like Eddie Bauer.
And because it’s a treaty, it’s not easy to fix when the unintended consequences become clear. The Navy discovered this when the nutters at Earth Justice went after them for bombing masked boobies on a small island the U.S. owns. (Yes, really. Masked boobies.)
Farmers and ranchers out in the district wanted to comply with the law (read: not go to jail for killing a bird that’s not a Bald Eagle), and asked our office to look into it.
So, I called Fish and Wildlife and asked what the deal was with stopping them from killing livestock. Would FWS come out and capture them? Send them to a vulture foster home? A vulture preserve?
The FWS-proposed solution was they could go to a regional office and apply for a permit to kill one black vulture. After killing it, they instruct the rancher to hang it from a tree to scare away the other black vultures. (In retrospect, this sounds kind of racist.) The constituents weren’t pleased with this solution.
Short of withdrawing from the treaty, which won’t likely happen, that left them in kind of a pickle. Killing one of these without a permit can land you in the slammer for six months and a fine of $15,000. I couldn’t say this at the time to the constituents, but I wondered why they just didn’t kill the damn birds. After all, who would miss these things aside from wealthy liberal ornithologist city slickers, bureaucrats, and environmentalists?
It’s not like FWS has roving patrols of meter maids checking on the growing populace of federally protected violent predators with no real predator to kill them. And it’s the middle of the country.
Anyways, the Washington Post reports that vultures, and by the photograph I’m nearly certain they’re black vultures, are now in Washington, D.C. — on K Street, no less.
I left the hill for the lucrative world of journalism and never heard if the vulture situation back west was really resolved. I emailed the local agriculture rep I once worked with, and he confirmed “We still have them here, just glad to share the over-abundance.”
The only known predators for black vultures are a few species of the eagle. And now that they’re in Washington, perhaps MetroBus can be added to the list of known predators.
It will be interesting to see if the black vultures become a problem in Washington. My guess is they’ll just be the butt of a “lobbyists are vultures” joke until they murder some hipster’s rescue dog at a dog park.
Only then will we hear the outrage.