Monday, July 9, 2012

Attract More Vultures To Your Yard

Say What????

Pair of Black Vultures
Okay, so Vultures aren’t up there with Cardinals and Goldfinches when it comes to what most people think of as “desirable” yard birds, but I still like them. Besides, I’d rather have Vultures than Starlings. Vultures never moved into a Bluebird nest and they haven’t taken up residence in my garage (thank goodness). In fact, aside from their peculiar habit of eating the windshield wipers on tourists’ cars in the Everglades, I’ve never heard of Vultures doing anything bad. Besides, the windshield wiper thing is pretty funny to watch, as long as it’s not your car they’re eating.

Turkey Vulture
Vultures are nature’s garbage collectors (or, maybe they prefer “sanitation engineers”). Since the towns in my area stopped picking up roadkilled animals due to cutbacks, the Vultures have stepped up to the plate (so to speak) and have taken on the task of keeping our cities clean. On top of that, they don’t demand pensions and never take a day off. In my part of the country, we have two species of Vultures – Turkey and Black. They aren’t that closely related, but they look fairly similar.

Turkey Vultures have silver and black under wings and a longer tail

While Turkey Vultures fly effortlessly, often going for hours without beating their wings, the heavier Black Vultures have trouble getting off the ground and seem to beat their wings franticly to get airborne. Turkey Vultures are one of the few birds with a well-developed sense of smell and are frequently first on the scene. Black Vultures are the more aggressive of the two, flying high in hopes of spotting Turkey Vultures feeding and then moving in and pushing them aside, but enough of the ornithology lesson.

Black Vultures have white patches at the wingtips and a shorter tail

I began feeding Vultures about ten years ago when I came across a dead deer in my backyard. I thought about dragging the thing into the woods, but then decided to move it into the yard a bit. I put it behind a tree so that it couldn’t be seen from the kitchen window. At least I have SOME common sense. My wife soon noticed about a dozen large black birds in the trees with more circling overhead and asked me what was going on. I confessed to dragging the carcass under the tree out of sight. She was upset and demanded that I move the body into the middle of the yard where she could watch the activity. I KNEW there was a reason I married her. In just a few days, the huge mess was reduced to a small pile of fur and bones that easily fit into a trash bag.
I have lots of gruesome shots, but there is a chance that you might be eating

A couple of months later, I drove past another carcass on the side of the road near my house. I looped a short rope around a leg, tied it off to the bumper of my truck and dragged it home. As I bounced off the street and onto my lawn, I saw my neighbor standing by his mailbox with a look on his face that could best be described as “horrified.” Oops – Busted! He followed me into the backyard to find out what on earth I was doing. I fessed up to my social faux pas. The next day, he came over to see the activity around my new “feeder” and told me to call him if another such feeder became available so that he could have one too. Now, THAT’S a good neighbor.
The heads of ADULT Turkey Vultures turn red

Over the years, I have put out a variety of things for the Vultures to eat. They aren’t very picky. In fact, the worse the offering is, the better they seem to like it. They make very short work of such things as the remains of the Thanksgiving Turkey or a package of roast beef that went bad in the back of the refrigerator. I presented my boldest offering two years ago when I pulled a frozen turkey out of the freezer that had been there for three years. There was no way that I was going to eat it. It was the middle of winter and the snow was deep so I took plastic wrap off the bird and carried it out into the yard. I worried that a coyote or fox might drag the still-frozen thing away, so I drove a long piece of rebar through it to hold it down. Did I mention that the location I choose was right outside my bathroom window and visible from the street? I wanted to get pictures and didn’t feel like standing outside in the cold. It would be much more comfortable, I figured, to set up a tripod in my bathroom and shoot through the open window.

The heads of Black Vultures are always dark

The next day, there were Vultures flying low over the yard and perched on the roof of every house in the neighborhood. More were on my roof, of course, than anywhere else. This time, my neighbor called me to ask what was going on (too cold out to stand by the mailbox). I confessed to what I had done and, again, I could hear the jealousy in his voice. Actually, he was dead silent, but I knew that he was green with envy. As it turns out, a rock-hard turkey that has been frozen solid for years takes the better part of a week to finish off. It makes me wonder why they aren’t sold in the upscale bird feed stores that are down on the highway.

This is as bad as I’m going to show – raw turkey at its finest

If you decide to follow my example, make sure your keep your expectations realistic at first. It may take a couple of weeks for the Vultures to get interested in your offerings. You can put something out at any time of year, but the summer heat seems to help the process along. Keep in mind that Vultures are wary, so it’s probably best not to put a carcass too near the house (like on the patio or next to the pool), until they get comfortable with your yard. Also, offer a variety of food – nobody likes to eat the same thing every day. Above all, take the time to smell the roses, so to speak. Enjoy your new bird friends and send me a photo of your successes.

Steve Byland is a wildlife photographer living in suburban New Jersey. His photos can be seen at – many of which were taken in his own backyard. He can be reached by email at


  1. You are hard core!!!!! WOW!!!

  2. Keep up the good work! Vultures are cool birds.

  3. Keep up the good work! Vultures are cool birds.