Birds encouraged to change home address

Associated Press | Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 12:00 am

HOT SPRINGS, S.D. | For as long as many people can remember, a flock of turkey vultures has made its summer home in large cottonwood trees on the grounds of the Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home.

So when one of the birds was killed and hung in one of the trees recently to entice the remaining birds to find a new home, it got many people’s attention.

“It’s been kind of a busy week on the phone,” agreed Randy Meyers, the director of operations for the state home.

Meyers said that the sheer number of birds – and the mess that they leave where they roost – has caused the flock to wear out its welcome.

“When it was a dozen or so birds it was different,” Meyers said. “It was kind of a novelty. Now, there are upwards of 100 or so. It has grown to the point that the mess they bring is a nuisance and it was our decision to ask for some help in dealing with the problem.”

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks answered the call and according to Regional Supervisor Mike Kintigh of Rapid City, is using the newest process to get the birds to move.

“Over the years the process has evolved,” Kintigh said. “I was involved in a similar situation in Sturgis and then we used lasers, shot off shells and other means to get the birds to move. It worked for some time, but then they returned.”

Kintigh said that the idea of eliminating one or two of the birds, having them stuffed at a taxidermist and then hanging them to get the birds to relocate is relatively new, but so far has had promising results.

Reports late in the week showed that the majority of the birds were roosting above Fall River, near the Highway 18 Bypass on the south end of town.

“The turkey vulture is protected federally and a permit is required to kill them,” Kintigh said. He said that the state has a federal permit to kill up to 150 of the birds annually, but that it has never come close to eliminating its allotted amount. “We look upon it as killing one or two in a place, to save the rest of them.”

Kintigh said that although he has not been to Hot Springs to see the mess left at the State Home, he is aware of the bird’s capabilities.

“They are carrion eaters and they to tend to excrete large amounts of waste,” he said. “But in addition, they also regurgitate things that they have eaten, which adds to the collection commonly found beneath roosting areas.”

“I have to admit that I had my doubts,” Meyers said, “but so far the process seems to be working. We are not mass killing them; we aren’t exterminating them. We are just asking them to go stay somewhere else, that’s all.”

Kintigh said that at some point when the birds have permanently moved to a different site that the hanging birds will be taken down. Then it depends upon on the effectiveness of the re-location training to see if they head back to the state home, or continue to use their new roosting site.

“And there is no guarantee that they will stay away,” Kintigh allowed. “Perhaps those living near where they are now roosting decided that they don’t like the mess either. I am not looking for more complaints, but it may happen.”

Meyers said he kind of enjoys watching the large birds, but questions where the vultures were roosting previously.

“Something or someone encouraged them to stop roosting where they were,” he said. “Why did they stop where they were?”

Kintigh added that perhaps there was another option as well.

“If those opposed to having the birds moved from the state home were to volunteer to clean up the area beneath the roosting trees, maybe that would let the Home reconsider,” he said.

For the time being, however, the circling turkey vultures of Hot Springs have a new address.