Two vulture chicks were recently removed from their nest at a construction site in Washington, D.C., then killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Wildlife Services (USDA APHIS WS).
“A WS biologist removed two juvenile vultures from a building that was to be torn down for safety reasons, emailed Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist for USDA APHIS. “The vultures were not close to fledging. WS removed the nest and euthanized two immature birds under the authority of a depredation permit issued to Wildlife Services by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”
No wildlife rehabilitation facilities were contacted by APHIS WS about the young vultures, despite that the birds would’ve been able to live had this been done.
According to a 2016 Facebook post by Owl Moon Raptor Center, “These adorable big baby black vultures were separated from their parents when the old building their nest was in was demolished, and the surrounding landscape mowed down. They need to be raised by adult vultures to learn how to live in the wild. We have successfully fostered baby vultures into other black vulture nests in the past, and we are currently looking for nests to foster these chicks into …”
Suzanne Shoemaker, director of Owl Moon, said she renested five or six juvenile vultures just this year.
Even if a surrogate nest couldn’t be found, wildlife rehabilitation facilities are able to hold birds until they’re able to fly and while following protocols to avoid human imprinting.
If transportation to a wildlife rehabilitation facilities was an issue for APHIS WS, many rehabilitators have volunteer transporters.
Jim Monsma, director of City Wildlife in Washington, D.C., heard about the removal of the chicks, but did not know what happened to them.
In an August 23 email, Monsma wrote, “I heard through various channels that within the past month, APHIS Wildlife Service removed a pair of vulture chicks (unknown whether Black or Turkey) from a shed at a construction site in DC. They say they have relocated the chicks, but they did not come to City Wildlife …”
The depredation permits that allow USDA APHIS WS to kill wildlife are authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – this includes birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, such as vultures and ospreys.
This license to kill doesn’t just happen in this area – it’s nationwide.
After the Calvert County osprey incident, Steve Regele, president of Audubon Yellowstone Valley emailed, “Our organization and affiliates have been struggling for 12 months with a similar agency driven osprey killing situation here in Montana.”
A 2014 article in The Washington Post about APHIS Wildlife Services states, “At least two members of Congress have called Wildlife Services secret and opaque for failing to provide more information, and there are mounting calls for an investigation into how it operates.”
As mentioned in an editorial about the Calvert County ospreys and subsequent public outrage, there’s no shortage of accessible information about APHIS WS, what they do and why they do it. In being tasked with handling wildlife and human conflicts and with depredation permits in hand, the wildlife is not always victorious.
Federally elected officials are the only ones with oversight of USDA APHIS WS, although the judicial system has been used many times with lawsuits.
As for the reason why the vulture chicks were killed, it was the same as the Calvert County ospreys – APHIS WS considered many factors, just not the lives of two chicks.
Espinosa’s email stated, “The most common problems associated with vultures are structural damage, loss of aesthetic value and property use related to offensive odors and appearance, depredation to livestock and pets, and air traffic safety. As trained and dedicated wildlife management professionals, WS carefully considers the decision to remove individual birds and lethal removal is done with consideration for the population of the species as a whole. “
In other words, it was two baby birds that happened to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time and with a propensity for odor that comes from their extremely important role as nature’s clean-up crew.
As for who requested USDA’s help evicting and/or killing the vultures, Espinosa’s email didn’t offer an explanation, only that it was a request from a “cooperator.”
When asked, she emailed, “… I can’t release that information as it is protected by the Privacy Act.”
The cooperator in the Calvert County osprey incident happened to be the county itself and the incident would not have been publicized had it not been for Chris Hoffman, a wildlife photographer, who thought he was witnessing two birds at a public park being removed from a nest to be renested elsewhere.
There’s no shortage of frustration from local wildlife rehabilitators with now two cases where baby birds could have been spared death.
“We would have definitely rehabbed those and I feel kind of responsible because that’s D.C. – that’s our turf,” said Monsma. “We would’ve taken them in.”
“Once again, no rehabilitators were contacted and there’s enough of us around that one of us would have been happy to take the vulture chicks,” said Kathleen Woods, president of the Maryland Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
(Cover photo by USFWS of two vulture chicks that are unrelated to this incident)
Donna L. Cole is an award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter. She’s also a volunteer bird of prey rescuer.