Determining the risks associated with scavenging raptors to the biosecurity of broiler farms on Delmarva.

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $11,307.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
Dr. Brigid McCrea
Delaware State University Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, manure management
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: wildlife
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal abstract:

    Vultures dig into broiler mortality composters on commercial broiler farms to gain access to the mortality. This is a significant biosecurity risk given the density of broiler production here on Delmarva. Producers have expressed frustration and concern at the situation. Vulture numbers vary on each farm, but the factors that influence the numbers have never been studied. Poultry farmers nationwide have mentioned that vultures dig in their composters yet no patterns of behavior have been identified.

                There are two species of vulture on Delmarva: Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. To gather more information on the scavenging raptors we propose to teach 15 broiler producers to scout (ID and count) on their farms at the composters for 15 minutes weekly for one year. Second, we will place game cameras on 10 broiler farms at the composters to determine which species of scavenging raptors are actually breaching the piles and removing the carcasses.

    The farmers, in their frustration, have commented that they would prefer to shoot the birds, which would perhaps deter them from visiting composters. After a survey, it is clear that broiler farmers in the region do not know very much about the federal laws regarding wild birds, which includes vultures. A change to the nutrient management curriculum to include information on vultures is proposed in this project. Farmers are required to attend continuing education courses to earn nutrient management credits. This is a good venue for educating farmers about the ecology and behavior of scavenging raptors on their farms.

    Outreach will be in the form of participants speaking at local farm meetings, a fact sheet and journal article.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Scouting Study:

    We will train 10 broiler producers to scout, identify and count vultures at the composters for 5 minutes three times a week. This scouting will take place from June 2014 to March 2015. We will provide producers with a journal into which they will place their data and recordings. The journal will contain a raptor ID sheet to assist producers in making accurate identifications. Also, general weather observations will be included in the journal.

                The scouting skills will be taught to the producers by the extension agents involved in the project. Using the outreach methods currently in place on Delmarva, producers will be asked if they are interested in participating in the study. The farmers will send in their scouting data to the researchers on a monthly basis. The data will be input by a student and analyzed by the extension poultry specialists.

                When the extension poultry specialist visits with the producers on their respective farms, they will assess the quality of the composter prior to teaching scouting skills. Using a temperature probe as well as accepted visual assessment techniques, the compost management will be rated. The ratings will be either good, average, or poor. Once the scouting period is finished, the composter on each farm will be assessed using the same techniques in order to determine if there has been any improvement. It is expected that farmers, by spending more time near the composting area, will improve their composter management, if needed. In addition to the data collected from scouting, we will, at the end of the study in 2015, ask farmers to complete a post-experiment form to provide constructive criticisms and suggestions about how the project could have been done better, and to indicate what went well.  

     Curriculum Change:

    The curriculum will be added to the already well-established waste management and compost management programs presented by both the Maryland and Delaware extension poultry specialists. Broiler producers are required to obtain continuing education credits to maintain their nutrient management certification. The new curriculum will include information on bird ecology and also the laws regarding migratory bird species. The data obtained from the scouting and game cameras will be presented at grower meetings throughout Delmarva.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.