Response to Op-Ed on Vultures in Poolesville
By Bob Pierce
I read your recent Op-Ed “Growing Problem with growing population of vultures” in the January 16 Monocle. I thought I’d share my personal experience with you. First, to set the record straight, the problem is with black vultures – not turkey vultures. These are two of the 3 species found in North America. The third is the California Condor, which has been battling extinction for a long time. Neither black nor turkey vultures share that problem! All of them in moderation are an ecologically important element of the natural environment. They are the sanitation works of nature and our world would be far more malodorous and unhealthy without them.
We moved to Poolesville in 1983 from New Jersey. To the best of my recollection, until that time, I had not seen a black vulture, although turkey vultures were familiar to me. For many years after we arrived in Poolesville, turkey vultures were the only vultures I observed. I can’t remember when I first sited a vulture that lacked the turkey vulture’s characteristic naked red head. I do recall having to look the bird up in a book to identify it. The book said that it was a southeastern U.S. species.
Back in the early days, I had a woodworking shop in the ground floor and a half basketball court on the top floor of our barn. We even held youth wrestling practice their a few time when the high school was closed due to inclement weather. When our sons left home I gradually expanded the wood shop to the second floor as well.
I don’t remember seeing either species of vulture on the barn roof when our sons still lived at home. Some years after my first siting, however, I’d come out and find first, two or three, then five or six and eventually up to a dozen black vultures sunning themselves on the peak of my old barn. I also was aware that in the immediate vicinity of Poolesville, I no longer saw any turkey vultures only their southern cousins. At that point my real job prevented me from doing much woodworking and the barn was deserted most of the time.
A number of years ago, I realized that we had a pair of black vultures nesting in a part of my old barn that I did not use even for storage. At the time, the population had not risen to the numbers it is today. Being an ecologist, I thought well that’s kind of neat. Back to the books and found that black vultures build no nest what so ever – they simply lay an egg on the floor or the ground in abandoned buildings. I also learned that black vultures are one of the species of birds that mate for life and keep offspring with the parents for several years, if not longer. Around 2011-2012 I began doing more woodworking. In the spring of 2013, the odor of rotted animal remains left from feeding the young the year before became overpowering and I decided that I’d no longer share my barn with the black vulture family (three birds) that had been returning year after year.
I boarded up the second floor space where they had reared their young – they still came. I blocked off the open crawl space under the open part of the barn – they flew in from the front. I’d throw tennis balls at them on the roof and they’d fly off until my arm got sore and they returned. I yelled at them and waved my arms. At first they’d fly off, but shortly they began to remain perched on the roof – seemingly laughing at me. At night, I tried shining a red laser-pointer light in their eyes – they put on sunglasses!
Finally, I put one of my son’s old boombox in the open bay of the barn. I found a great, Mexican music channel – always-lively music and fast talking announcers – turned it up loud and left it on 24/7. That finally dissuaded them. Eventually, I was able to turn the boombox down somewhat so that we couldn’t here it in the house. Came the fall of 2013, I figured that rearing season was over and I turned the boombox off. Within two days they were back. In fact every time – even in winter – that I turn the boombox off, the black vultures return. As I write this, I hear the far-off strains of a Mexican melody playing from my barn. I have found my personal solution.
As I walk by the dentist’s office and the House of Poolesville restaurant in the summer, I always think that the vultures roosting in the trees behind them must not be good for business. While I agree that something needs to be done, without an all-out, town-wide effort as was done in Leesburg, I fear that the persistence of the black vultures will win the battle.