Vultures perturb some Hutch residents

HUTCHINSON — Silently the black birds with the red, bald heads glide in at sunset, and dozens land side-by-side, roosting on tree branches in the tony Hyde Park neighborhood.

With wings spanning 6 feet or more, the turkey vultures preen, flex wings and stare at whatever moves underneath, —not harming, just watching.

Come morning, they will take off again, as silently as they slipped in.

"They look like a scene from a Harry Potter book," said Jim Sunderland, a homeowner in the neighborhood near the Kansas State Fairgrounds where the vultures have spent the past few weeks roosting at night.

"We were on a walk last Thursday night and there were probably 30 to 40 turkey vultures circling the general area. Then, they took refuge in a tree — a very tall sycamore. It's a very spooky sight."

It's enough of a spooky sight that the city of Hutchinson has launched a couple of noise makers in the neighborhood to shoo the birds on. Amber Slankard, the city's animal services director, said the city got its first complaint March 31.

Turkey vultures are on their spring migration, their range anywhere from South America to southern Canada. Some remain year round.

The height of the migration is nearly over. But on some nights, the animal services officers will go to the neighborhood, Slankard said, and set off bird bombs and bangers.

"The birds are no threat, just more of a nuisance than anything," Slankard said.

"We are hoping they will roost elsewhere."

According to Dan Mulhern, biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that many birds roosting together "may be a bit stinky" but shouldn't cause any problem.

What the city is doing, Mulhern said, is hazing the birds. It is a similar to what is done sometimes to encourage geese to move away from airports or crows from downtowns.

But vultures?

"They are only here for a very short period," said Charlie Cope, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks district biologist.

"Honestly, the longer I am in this business, it just amazes me what people will complain about. Some people dislike the prairie dogs; some love herons and others don't. If people got rid of everything that somebody perceived as a problem, we'd all live in a sterile white box in a room."

Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said the birds — protected through the federal migratory act of 1918 — are making a comeback. It is not that unusual to see the giant birds — of the same family as storks, ibises and condors — seeking shelter in towns.

"The vultures are looking for an area where they probably feel a little protected from wild animals," Klataske said. "The thing we find is that people who otherwise support nature conservation tend to not want barn swallows on the porch or egrets nesting in colonies in their neighborhood — or, in this case, turkey vultures in their neighborhood."

This is not the first year the vultures have roosted in Hutchinson. Jim Smith, director of the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, remembers the first time he received a phone call complaining about the birds.

"A woman called up. She was lounging in her hot tub and there were 20 to 30 in a tree looking at her," Smith said.

And still they come. Each night like clockwork — from 7:30 until dark.

Mike Salmsley a retired dentist living in the neighborhood, has watched them for the past five years.

"Lot of people around here have problems with wild geese and droppings. Some have wild turkeys,'' he said.

"To me, these vultures are no problem. I see them like eagles soaring."