Border Officials Seek to Evict Defecating Vultures From Texas Radio Tower


Some 300 vomiting, defecating vultures have made a United States Customs and Border Protection radio tower in South Texas their home, coating the tower and buildings beneath it with potentially hazardous excrement as besieged border officials try to stem the deteriorating situation.

In a notice on Thursday, the agency said it was looking for advice on how to attach some sort of net on the 320-foot tower in Kingsville to keep the vultures from roosting and nesting on its “railings, catwalks, supports, and on rails and conduit throughout.”

“Droppings mixed with urine are on all of these surfaces and throughout the interior of the tower where workers are in contact with it, as well as on areas below,” the agency said. “Since the presence of birds attract more birds, this rural tower will be a frequent and constant target for vultures.”

The agency said it hoped to have the net system, which would cut off access for the birds, in place by August, “before the natural heavy vulture roosting period during the fall months.”

Customs and Border Protection said it could not immediately answer questions about the issue on Sunday. A person who answered the phone at the agency’s station in Kingsville, a rural city of nearly 26,000 about 150 miles southeast of San Antonio, declined to comment.

The agency said in a statement to the news website Quartz, which reported on the notice on Friday, that the vultures defecate and vomit onto buildings below and that “there are anecdotes about birds dropping prey from a height of 300 feet, creating a terrifying and dangerous situation for those concerned.”

It was not immediately clear whether the vultures were affecting the radio tower’s functions.

Turkey and black vultures are common across the United States and can often be seen gliding in lazy circles in the sky. In recent decades, their population has increased, according to the United States Wildlife Services. They have few natural predators.

Both species have mostly black bodies with wrinkled, bald heads and sharp beaks. They have five- to six-foot wingspans and weigh about four pounds. They largely scavenge for food and have acidic stomach liquids and corrosive urine. Their droppings reek of ammonia.

Scientists emphasize that vultures play a key role in the ecosystem, cleaning up carcasses and controlling disease, but many people consider the birds to be a nuisance. Hordes of roosting vultures have descended on homes, city parks and even churches.

They tear at window caulking on buildings, scratch paint on cars and rip seat covers from boats, the Wildlife Services said. Feces and vomit on electrical transmission towers can cause power failures. Water sources tainted by vulture excrement pose health risks.

Vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be killed without a special permit.

Companies offer a variety of products to keep vultures away, including metal spikes, vulture “effigies” resembling dead birds that could discourage others from roosting, and devices that give the birds an electric shock when they land.

The net system seemed as though it would be a particularly costly way to deal with the vultures, said Russell Adams, the owner of a company called Bird Deterrent Technologies.

He says vultures are particularly drawn to communications towers, like the one in Kingsville, which they can readily land on and where they can perch in relative safety.

“That’s a very typical vulture roost site,” he said. “It just happens to be on a critically important communication tower that they can’t afford to have these birds stay on.”

He said roosting vultures could tamper with and damage antennas. Bacteria in the excrement can be a health hazard for workers, he said.

“They not only crap all over the tower, they crap all over themselves as well,” he said. “They’re constantly jockeying to be at the top of the tower so they’re not crapped on all night long.”

He said he had seen towers with as many as 500 roosting vultures.

Carole Geddes, who has lived in Kingsville for 37 years, said she first noticed the vultures on the radio tower five or six years ago. She said their numbers had grown. It has become “the most incredible phenomenon you will ever witness in your entire life,” she said.

Ms. Geddes, who was until last year the president of the Music Club of Kingsville, which has a building across the street from the tower, said the vultures did not cause problems for passers-by.

During the day, most of the vultures fly off and only about 20 to 30 remain. In the evening, they return in twos and threes.

She said the tower used to attract other birds.

“Now everybody is driven out,” she said. “It’s the vultures — it belongs to them. That’s their home.”



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