You can tell when you’re getting close to Dutch Gap, Virginia, by the signs that read “Welcome to Dutch Gap” and the ones pointing to the Henricus Historical Park commemorating a settlement dating back to 1611. Oh, and by the dead vultures hanging from street lights. Wait, what?
Dutch Gap, near Richmond, is named for the canal that was dug by Union forces during the American Civil War to cut off a section of the James River held by Confederate forces. It’s now home to an electricity-generating plant of Dominion Virginia Power Company, which some blame for the large numbers of black vultures attracted to the area, causing the aforementioned hangings.
Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are New World vultures whose range stretches from the southeastern United States south to Central Chile and Uruguay. One of the smaller vultures (wingspan up to 1.5 m or 4.9 ft), they’re black (obviously) with a featherless gray head. Like all vultures, they perform the valuable task of eating carrion. When there’s not enough carrion, they’ve been known to eat eggs and newborn animals, forage through garbage cans and attack cars … perhaps blaming them for the lack of road kill.
An overpopulation of black vultures roosting on power lines and poles around town and at the power plant results in messy droppings on the ground below. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries blames the increase in number of black vultures since the 1980s on food left out by residents for feral cats, warm weather bringing them north early and residential development cutting down trees and forcing the birds to roost on power company property.
Residents considering shooting or poisoning the vultures are advised that they’re protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ($15,000 fine). That’s where the wildlife division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the hanging dead vultures comes in. The USDA claims that live vultures are upset by the sight of dead vultures hanging upside down, so they gut carcasses (no indication where those come from) and tie them to poles and wires.
Does the macabre practice work? The USDA and some residents say yes, others say no. Still, it’s easer than trying to convince cat people to stop feeding the strays.
It might be better for Dutch Gapians to learn to live with the birds. Vulture shortages around the world are causing over-abundances of dead animals, which can spread diseases, and affecting the Indian practice of sky burials (you can figure it out).