Turkey vultures roosting near Alabama middle school creating health concerns, controversy

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OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – A large roost of at least a hundred turkey vultures between Opelika Middle School and the Calhoun Tennis Center is sparking community debate as the city council considers amending a long-standing ordinance to address the issue.

A United States Department of Agriculture wildlife expert is recommending shooting a few of the birds and hanging their carcasses in trees. Wildlife experts say the effigies will cause the flock to leave the area. However, the idea doesn’t sit well with some residents and would require the city to amend its ordinance preventing the discharging of firearms in the city.

The Opelika City Council had its first reading to amend the ordinance Tuesday night. Some citizens expressed concerns about killing birds federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and firing guns within the city.

“The city is doing its due diligence to make sure that we are following all laws, but we are obligated to ensure the safety of our citizens and school children who are affected by the turkey vultures. An important note for the community is that the proposed ordinance does not provide carte blanche authority for people to shoot and kill nuisance animals,” said Mayor Gary Fuller.

Opelika School Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors says the birds are adversely affecting Opelika Middle School’s educational setting. Turkey vultures are scavengers and forage in dead carcasses. Bacteria, fungal agents, and parasites found in droppings and nests can host the spread of serious diseases. Since the birds are roosting in trees and lights at the middle school’s athletic field and on top of school buildings, droppings are all over the area where students, teachers, and staff congregate.

At least a hundred turkey vultures roost between Opelika Middle School and the Calhoun Tennis Center

Opelika’s City Attorney Guy Gunter released a letter to residents in hopes of explaining the situation further. Gunter explained while vultures play an essential role in the environment, their bacteria-ridden droppings and regurgitation can spread disease, produce foul odors, and damage buildings. Gunter says the birds can also scare children and damage property with their sharp talons.

Gunter says the birds can not be killed unless they are deemed a real nuisance to the community, and then a federal permit is necessary to kill them legally. Gunter further explains the entire population will not be killed according to a USDA wildlife biologist who works with state and local governments to resolve conflicts with vultures.

“According to USDA experts, the most effective method of battling flocks of turkey vultures is to hang effigies of the birds upside down. Wildlife biologists do not recommend shooting large numbers of vultures. Only a few vultures would be shot in their carcasses would be strung high in trees to frighten the flock away from its roosting spot,” wrote Gunter.

Gunter says the proposed ordinance creates a new exception to the general rule that it is unlawful to discharge a firearm in the city limits. The new exception allows the shooting of nuisance birds and animals under the supervision of the police department. Gunter says the shooting of nuisance birds must be performed by skilled operators who hold the appropriate permit licenses and accreditations.

“Their permit must comply with all federal state and municipal rules and regulations. The proposed ordinance does not provide carte blanche authority for people to shoot and kill vultures. If the proposed ordinance is adopted, then before a person can shoot a turkey vulture in Opelika, the person must obtain a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation permit and a permit from the Opelika Police Department,” said Gunter.

If the City Council approves the plan to remove the roost, the Opelika police department will supervise the birds’ extermination, so it’s accomplished safely.

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