Bird Watcher's General Store

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Turkey Vulture Vandalism

Dear Bird Folks,

This sounds unbelievable, but every morning at 9, several turkey vultures land on my back deck. They then proceed to peck at my sliding door, ripping the screen and pulling off the rubber gasket. I’ve called several places but no one will believe me. Do you believe me? Do you have any advice? Besides the damage to my house, these huge vultures are starting to creep me out.

Shirley, Franklin


Ish Shirley,

Vultures at your back door? This can’t be a good thing. Have you had a roll call lately? Is there a family member who you haven’t seen for a while? You know I like birds but this would creep me out too. However, I believe you. Why would you make ths up? Having vultures picking at your house is not something most people brag about, unless you live in Death Valley.

Turkey vultures are a large dark bird with a huge 6-foot wingspan (I know that you know this, Shirl, this information is for the rest of the English-speaking world). They are fairly common on Cape Cod and most often seen soaring high overhead, like hawks. Because vultures are so big, many people think they are eagles. However, a bald eagle glides with its wings straight across, like a surfboard. Whereas turkey vultures hold their wings in a shallow “V” shape, like the cushion of a couch with a fat guy sitting in the middle of it.

Even though vultures eat meat and soar like hawks and eagles, they aren’t closely related to other birds of prey. The eggheads tell us that they are more closely related to flamingos and storks. Man, it’s bad enough having a vulture on your deck, could you imagine having one deliver your baby? Or how about having vultures instead of those famous flamingos in front of that restaurant in Brewster? Somehow, I don’t think plastic vultures would be a boon for a restaurant.

As most of us know, vultures eat mostly meat, but they don’t kill stuff. They only eat animals that have been killed by something else, just like most of us. But unlike most other birds, vultures have an excellent sense of smell. They are able to locate food from the wonderful rotting smells carrion gives off. A vulture’s sense of smell is so reliable that companies that are running pipelines across hundreds of miles will use vultures to test for leaks. A company will pump dead animal stink into the pipeline and then look for vultures. If they spot a flock of vultures circling around a section of pipeline, they know that there is a leak in that section. I know this sounds like one of those weird stories that I’ve made up, but this vulture/pipeline thing is actually true.

As for your problem Shirley, I have learned that your situation is more common than you thought. Down south, where they are more common, vulture attacks on houses are not rare at all. As we speak, experts are working to solve the problem. They have a theory that some building materials give off a smell that the birds interpret as food. What looks like a vinyl screen door to you, may smell like a yummy dead mule to a turkey vulture.

How to stop the birds can be tricky since they are federally protected. Some garden shops sell motion detectors that squirt water when something gets too close. They are used to scare pests out of people’s gardens. Maybe something like that would work to spook your vultures. And if you get lucky, perhaps the motion detector will blast the NStar meter reader too. Then you could chase away two vultures, one with wings and one with a clipboard.