"Once they get a hold of them, they pick the calf's nose off, pick around his mouth, face, and navel. So then the calf can't make it very long after that." It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but John Hardin says it's a sight that occasionally occurs on his Indiana farm, where black vultures do what their turkey vulture kin won't—go after live animals. And now Indiana farmers can go after them. The Indianapolis Star reports that the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act prevents the killing of the migratory birds without a permit, and the Indiana Farm Bureau this month unveiled a program that will allow livestock farmers to more easily and cheaply secure that permit. That there are black vultures on their properties to take out is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Greg Slipher of the Indiana Farm Bureau was warned by his Kentucky counterparts roughly five years ago that the birds were headed north. There are now thought to be as many as 17,000 black vultures in the state; 500 of them can be killed this year as part of the new program. Their toll has yet to be quantified, though the Star cites one survey that found 25 animals owned by 20 farmers were killed over the last three years. "A single cow can be worth more than $1,000, and for small producers, the loss of just one cow can be a major disruption to their operation," the paper explains. A Purdue researcher studying their impact notes that as "nature's garbage disposals," black vultures play a key ecological role by dealing with animal carcasses. But they can be vicious, even eating "calves as they're being birthed." (Read more vulture stories.)