By HELEN PALMER
This past Sunday I had a definite warning. At noon I let my 6-pound dog out for relief only, however, she decided it was time to explore the yard. Standing on the stoop encouraging her to come in, I noticed that the house chimney’s shadow had movement. Curious, I went down the steps and a few feet into the yard to see what was making the moving shadows. Oh my goodness, standing on the chimney were two huge birds with wings outspread. Quietly I crept over toward my dog, snatched her up and we went inside. The birds quickly folded their wings, but continued to stay up there.
Checking the Internet, the only species of bird that size that looked totally black to me is the Black Vulture, which according to a website by Cornell Lab of Ornithology; they actually have white “stars” on their wing tips which are difficult to see from a distance. I wrote about these birds last April when the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture had an article in one of their journals on the increase in the population of a vulture that in the past was rarely seen in Kentucky – the Black Vulture. The adult bird is around two feet in length with a wing span of nearly five feet. They weigh between 3.5 and 4.8 pounds and are slightly larger than a Red-tailed Hawk.
Every time I write about birds of prey I feel that it is necessary to alert my new readers to the fact that birds of prey, which include hawks, vultures, eagles and owls, are protected by federal laws that have hefty fines. They cannot be legally harmed or killed without a permit being issued because these birds help control the mouse, vole, rabbit and rat populations. Most vultures clean up the road kill and animals that die in the field and do not bother living creatures. Unfortunately, Black Vultures are the exception, they are known to attack and eat small fish, lame or defenseless small to medium size animals, like newborn calves, piglets or lambs.
Because of this tendency to attack defenseless small animals, I would like to remind owners of small pets, 20-pounds or under, to be careful when letting your dog or cat out. Check the sky and go with your pet if you see large birds soaring high in the sky – or standing on your chimney!
In the case of hawks that swoop down like an airplane starting to land, grab the prey animal and take off again without touching the ground, possible attacks can be stopped by the use of garbage cans or other large objects placed 10 or 12 feet apart inside a pen thereby breaking up the landing pattern.
In the case of Black Vultures that land on the ground to eat, such precautions will not help. Your physical presence would probably be a deterrent and protect your dog if the birds are circling your area. Frankly, I’d rather stay inside.