OK, they don’t actually eat them, they just play with them, particularly by tearing away at the rubber and vinyl bits, like the windshield wipers and weather stripping around doors and sunroofs.
There are actually signs in some park and wilderness areas warning of this. I was handed a flyer about it on a recent visit to Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, FL. And park rangers sometimes set off loud canons to shoo them away. I am not sure how long the latter would be effective though.
I was 50 yards away from a blast the other day at Myakka and it scared the crap out of me because I’d never heard it before and didn’t know it was going to go off. The second blast didn’t alarm me as much and by the third I wasn’t fazed. And I noticed that the vultures that were near me, as far away from the noise as I was, didn’t move at all. The ones down in the parking lot by the lake, where they were using the canon, moved up into the trees though.
From my observation, plastic bags are pretty effective, especially on a windy day. The noise and motion of a half dozen of them tied to a car and flapping around appears offputting to the vultures, who generally like their prey quiet and not moving.
WHY seems to be the big unanswered question. “It is believed by some that these products release some chemical cue that is appealing to the birds through UV or heat degradation, though that has yet to be proven,” says a USDA National Wildlife Research Center official.
Here’s what the Everglades National Park website says about them: “Vultures are attracted to the rubber on vehicles and have been know (sic) to cause severe damage to windshields, sun roofs, and windshield wipers. Vultures are a federally protected migratory species and may not be harmed.”
The fact that this has been going on for many years but seems to be limited to the national and state parks is heartening. At least I don’t have to sit on my porch guarding my house from them.
On the other hand, if it were more widespread maybe we’d finally find a use for all those insidious plastic bags we are surrounded by.
By the way, vultures have disgusting habits like crapping on their legs to keep cool and vomiting when they are harassed. Despite that, they have lots of fans. There is even an International Vulture Awareness Day, celebrated on the first Saturday of each September. Here’s a roundup of last year’s festivities around the globe. And, for kicks, try google imaging ‘vulture awareness day T-shirts.’
And here’s a nice tidbit: A group of vultures is called a committee, venue or volt. In flight, a flock of vultures is a kettle. My favorite: When the birds are feeding together at a carcass, the group is called, get this!, a wake. I am not making this stuff up, folks.