Black vultures are eating livestock alive, and there's little farmers can do about it unless they secure a federal permit to kill the protected birds, whose numbers have ballooned over the last two decades. Kentucky herdsman Derek Lawson says he came upon six black vultures pecking a calf to death this year. The birds jump around, playing with the newborns, before going for their eyes, killing within minutes, he tells the Louisville Courier Journal. The News and Tribune describes the same issue in neighboring Indiana. "What they're doing is sitting on the back of a very healthy cow who is [lying] down, and the vulture is just eating their skin," farmer Karen Foster tells the outlet. According to the University of Kentucky's forestry department, the vultures "feed on newborn calves, lambs, goats, [and] piglets and will occasionally attempt to feed on the adults of these livestock."
Black vultures are more aggressive though slightly smaller than turkey vultures, which are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Farmers can ruin vulture nests, but only if there are no eggs or juveniles present. "We used to honk and they'd move, but they don't anymore," says Foster. She says shooting a gun into the ground doesn't do the job, either. It's a nationwide problem, one farmers in Southern states have been dealing with for years. But as the birds reach farther north, they meet with animals "not as keen on how to defend themselves," a bird expert tells the News and Tribune. Officials are looking to expedite the permit process as a result. Applicants must pay a fee—$50 for a homeowner, $100 for a business owner—and demonstrate that their property is in danger. There are also restrictions on the number of vultures to be killed and the manner of killing. (Read more vulture stories.)