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Purcell’s buzzards always hovering in local airspace

John Denny Montgomery
Posted 3/7/24

Purcell’s most famous flock of resident birds are spending a little less time in their favorite roost near Jefferson and 7th streets in Purcell.

With temperatures warming up as spring …

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Purcell’s buzzards always hovering in local airspace


Purcell’s most famous flock of resident birds are spending a little less time in their favorite roost near Jefferson and 7th streets in Purcell.

With temperatures warming up as spring approaches, they’re more active and noticeable as they make their lazy circles in the sky.

According to McClain County Mesonet Ag Coordinator Wes Lee, the birds commonly seen in Purcell are black headed buzzards, which are also referred to as a Mexican Buzzard or black vulture.

They are different than the red-headed Turkey Buzzard, which is native to Oklahoma.

Black vultures are a non-native species in Oklahoma.

“It seems like we’re seeing the black-headed buzzards more than we’re seeing the red-headed lately,” Lee said.

The black-headed variety feed on dead animal carcasses but will also occasionally kill live animals for food, which is a key difference from the native Turkey Buzzard – which only eat dead carcasses.

The black buzzard’s wingspan is between 4 1/2 and 5  1/2 feet wide.

According to the National Audubon Society (NAS), a black buzzard “soars with wings held flat, and its glides are often punctuated by several quick flaps.”

The birds may grunt of hiss but are rarely heard.

They glide in the sky while searching for food and watch the behavior of other buzzards to locate food as well.

While they mostly feed on carrion, they will also eat small reptiles, eggs of other birds, and occasionally newborns of larger animals, according to the NAS.

They may also eat some plant material and rotting vegetables. They will even eat scraps from garbage dumps.

Protected species

Oklahoma Game Warden Brian Meskimen said black vultures can be found across all of Oklahoma.

In fact, their territory extends from South America to New York or Massachusetts, according to the National Audubon Society.

It is illegal to shoot black buzzards as they are a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

According to Meskimen, killing one of the birds can result in a fine.

“It would be just like shooting any bird of prey, like an eagle, hawk or owl,” he said.

While it is illegal for most people to shoot black buzzards, there is relief for livestock owners.

“Farmers and ranchers can obtain free permits to legally shoot black vultures that are creating depredation on their livestock,” Meskimen said.  “With a permit you are allowed to take five birds. It’s shotgun use only with non-toxic shot.”

Permits can be obtained through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF).

Their telephone number is 405-521-4039 or you can go online to https://ag.ok.gov/black-vulture-sub-permittee-application/.

Trouble for agriculture

McClain County OSU Extension Director Justin McDaniel said black vultures can be a big problem for farmers and ranchers – especially this time of year as cows are calving.

“They can do significant damage to a rancher’s cow heard,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes there may be 20-30 buzzards together going after calves. When there’s that many they can’t protect them. Sometimes the cow will step on the calf or lay on it and will accidentally kill the calf trying to protect it.”

Vultures attack livestock by attacking the eyes, nose, face and other soft tissues of the animal.

“They can even catch a cow while she’s in labor and attack her. They might not kill it but can injure it to the point where it has to be euthanized,” McDaniel said. “And it they can do it to cattle, when you’re talking about sheep and goats and even smaller animals, it’s even easier for them.”

McDaniel says it’s easier than people realize to apply for permits through ODAFF to help control the vulture population at their operation.

“Not as many people are getting the permits as there should be,” he said. “If one of your animals is killed by a vulture there’s no compensation for it. With today’s prices that’s really significant. That’s tough.”

With populations rising, there will only be more encounters with the birds going forward.

“Every year we see more and more,” McDaniel said. “I get a phone a week or a visit nearly every week about someone having a problem.”

The birds living in the trees above Purcell don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon and residents can expect to see them for the foreseeable future.


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