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Unwanted visitors: Vultures perch seasonally at woman’s home

January 15, 2018

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Every evening this time of year, just before dusk, big black vultures appear one by one low in the sky over Virginia Webb’s home.

Their broad wings spread wide, gathering the air in the fading light, as they glide-land silently in a cluster of tall white pines lining the edge of her front yard. Soon several scores of birds fill the brown branches, like hunched-back undertakers watchfully waiting to exploit any tragedy below.

“I have counted 400 before in those trees,” said Webb, a cheerful 78-year-old lady with casually wavy white hair. “They get in the branches and spread their wings out.

“It’s not fun,” she added.

For the past 10 years or so this scene has played out nightly during the colder months of the year, usually from mid-October to mid-April.

Uninvited and unwanted invaders, a large number of vultures have selected Webb’s trees outside her Charles Town home as their roosting spot for the winter. Usually about five to 15 birds linger year round.

“It’s like they’re guarding the property or something,” Webb said. “I haven’t heard any sound from them.”

Two kinds of vultures are roosting in her trees. One is the more familiar turkey vulture with a wrinkly, gobbler-looking red balding head. The other is the more aggressive black vulture, with a gray wrinkly head and gray wing tips.

More black vultures than turkey ones roost at Webb’s longtime residence.

“The black vultures will come down on the ground,” she said. “They throw up balls of fur and stuff like that and you can see them down there picking like a flock of chickens around.”

Webb said vultures, with wingspans as wide as six feet, prefer to roost in tall trees where the wind currents can provide generous lift dynamics for easy soaring takeoffs.

“And that’s why they’ve picked these trees,” she said with a slight nod to her front yard.

“I expect they’re 90-feet tall,” she said of the now-a-bit-scraggly, mature white pines. “They’ve been here a long time.”

The vultures started coming to her property about the same time officials at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park began an effort to scare a group of vultures away from there, Webb said.

For years, she has been searching for ways to persuade the birds to gather elsewhere. She and her late husband, David, talked to various city and state officials about the problem for years.

It’s expensive, too. Various times the birds have pecked at the shingles and ridge vent on her roof, causing a few leaks that required professional repairs.

Standard homeowner policies don’t cover any vulture vandalism, she said.

“They still peck at the roof,” she added.

Webb has tried different things to persuade the birds to leave, and nothing has worked so far. She remembers trying to douse the birds with her grandson’s plastic toy pump-action water gun. The water-gun spraying hasn’t really done much to deter the birds, she said.

“As soon as I spray the water they all take off,” she explained. “Well, then they come back the next evening, or a day or two later.”

One time years ago a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources official hung a vulture carcass up in a tree in her yard to scare away the living loitering ones. The wildlife official sounded confident the gruesome ploy would work, Webb said. The carcass dangled there for several weeks.

“The vultures would fly over and they would look at it and go on up in the trees,” she recalled with a laugh. “It didn’t do a thing.”

Webb said she would be glad for a mill or lumber company to clear away the pine trees in exchange for the wood. The birds are damaging the trees, stripping the bark off them, she notes.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “The only thing I know is to get rid of the source with the trees-cut the trees down.”

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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

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