Feed Additive Responsible for Multiple Sick and Dead Vultures Found on State Property in 2019

It happened on Halloween of last year – over a dozen black vultures were found on a state property. Some were already dead, some would soon be and others were sickened.

On October 31, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) responded to a Maryland State Highway Administration facility, located at 660 West Street in Salisbury, where they “observed numerous black vultures that were lethargic and unable to fly,” according to USFWS documents obtained by WNAV through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Three of the birds were dead when the USFWS special agent arrived at the MDSHA facility, according to USFWS documents. 13 additional vultures were transported to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, De., where three died, nine were released and one was held for later release.

The vultures, which are federally protected,  were sickened  by a feed additive for farm animals, according to the USFWS documents.  

“The birds died by ingesting lasalocid, ” according to the USFWS laboratory report.

The laboratory report states that lasalocid is an ionophore and ionophores are “found in cattle and poultry feed as an additive to promote growth and to treat or prevent the parasitic infection coccidiosis. Toxicity typically occurs when feed is incorrectly formulated or is eaten by a species that is sensitive to the drug.”

The radio tower at the MDSHA facility, according to the USFWS documents, is a much-used roosting site for the vultures and though the birds were found at that facility, they didn’t necessarily get poisoned there.

USFWS photo

Vultures are scavengers. According to the USFWS lab report, “Because death does not occur immediately after consumption, the contaminated material may not have been at the site where the birds were found. Likely sources include poultry or cattle feed or premixes that have been improperly disposed or otherwise made available to scavenging birds.”

Again, vultures are scavengers. Did they consume the feed or farm animals that succumbed first to the feed that was improperly dosed with the lasalocid? We won’t know.

Though there was no prosecution in this case, the USFWS spoke to multiple people during their investigation, including employees of retail stores at a nearby shopping center and a property manager. Vulture decoys were also noted by the USFWS in that shopping center.

An agent’s note in the USFWS documents states, “where vultures are a nuisance, dead vultures are often hung in effigy to deter other vultures from inhabiting the area.”

USFWS photo

The USFWS also spoke to the MDSHA facilities manager for the West Road, Salisbury location.

The MDSHA released the following statement about the incident – “We are aware of the animal remains discovered on our property, and fully cooperated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Administration investigators. No further action was required by MDOT SHA after the interview was conducted with investigators.”

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