BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — The dead vulture’s feathers snap and crack, breaking apart as its frozen wings are spread for one last flight.
It will soon soar gracefully — albeit briefly — into a tree in this hilly New Jersey suburb, hoisted to a branch where it will hang, upside down, until spring.
Wildlife officials say it’s a sure-fire way to get an estimated 100 black and turkey vultures from roosting in the neighborhood, leaving behind foul-smelling and acidic droppings on roofs and lawns, creeping out residents and even their pets.
Before the black vulture’s carcass is strung up, nearly a dozen vultures glide over Bridgewater on a cool, gray Monday morning. Some perch in trees. One rests on a chimney-top.
Neighborhood residents watched as wildlife specialist Terri Ombrello launched a weighted fishing line over a branch with a sling shot. She took turns with partner Nicole Rein tying the bird’s legs with another line then pulled the bird about 30 feet off the ground.
Vultures may like to eat road kill but it turns out they don’t like the sight of their own dead upside down.
“They don’t like seeing their own in that unnatural position,” Rein said.
Bridgewater, a town of 45,000 about 40 miles west of New York, became at least the seventh New Jersey community this winter to turn to the wildlife services unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for buzzard-beating help. Black and red turkey vultures are protected species and cannot be killed without a permit.
The birds roost from November to April, settling down as it gets dark, when they are most visible.
Jim Van Allen, 69, lives across the street where the carcass was strung up in Bridgewater. He’s lived in the neighborhood practically his entire life. He said it isn’t unusual to see vultures there in this community but not this many. He said the vultures started arriving in November, just after Superstorm Sandy.
“They just glide all around, all day long, I mean, just looking for something dead,” he said.
The vultures, which have sometimes lined up eerily on rooftops, have not just spooked residents. Mark Nathan said his yellow lab Callie is afraid of the vultures, especially when they fly low.
“She freaks out about them,” Nathan said. The dog “barks at them and then she runs inside as fast as possible,” he said.
Scavenging vultures are key to the ecosystem because they feed off dead animals, acting as flying garbage disposals. Still, in densely populated areas where they can thrive, vultures pose a serious nuisance.
“Their feces runs down the roof. It looks bad,” Van Allen said.
Residents can expect to see fewer vultures within one to three days. While some may still perch on the tree, Rein said, they will not do so for long.
While some New Jersey towns regard the influx of vultures as a problem at least one community is hoping it will get its birds back.
Wenonah started holding a vulture festival in 2006 after nearly 200 turkey and black vultures made the town their winter home. But the town canceled its festival this year, according to Vulture Festival website, because they’re no longer roosting there at night.
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