A black vulture standing on a tree stump.
Although present in Georgia year round, black vultures may make short southward migrations in fall. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

Although our temperatures are still warm, the hours of sunlight are noticeably fewer these days. Short day length is one factor that triggers the fall migration of birds from their northern summer nesting grounds to warmer southern regions. Many of these migrating birds pass through Georgia, either following a route along the Blue Ridge Mountain range, or skirting the Atlantic coastline.

While warblers, wrens, and sapsuckers bring winter color and song to our backyards, some migratory birds cause damage. Woodpeckers may drill holes in wood siding of homes. Migratory waterfowl are the primary carriers of avian influenza, the virus that caused the loss of over 49 million chickens and turkeys in 2015. In addition, Canada geese may cause damage to lawns, landscape plants, and agricultural crops; create unsanitary situations in parks; and become aggressive toward people. This is especially true when flocks of Canada geese decide to become permanent residents in certain areas, rather than moving on with their migration.

Perhaps the most objectionable migratory bird, judging by calls to the Extension office, are the black vultures. The carrion-eating birds are large – over two feet long and boasting a wingspan approaching five feet – and almost entirely black, including their bald, wrinkly heads. To add to the creepy factor, black vultures hiss and grunt. They don’t have a vocal box, so they can’t produce more melodic sounds.

Less populous than the familiar red-headed turkey vultures, black vultures are nevertheless present in Georgia year-round. Some flocks move southward in the fall, however, taking layovers in Forsyth County neighborhoods during their short migration and stirring up concern among homeowners. Fortunately, the rest periods are brief and the birds move on in a few days.

Even if their behavior or appearance is objectionable, all birds in Georgia are considered migratory and are protected by federal law. Canada geese may be hunted in season, but otherwise, property owners may only use non-lethal tactics to encourage nuisance birds to move on.

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