Vulture flight behavior and implications for aircraft safety

Authors

  • Michael L. Avery,

    Corresponding author
    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA
    • United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA.
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  • John S. Humphrey,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA
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  • Trey S. Daughtery,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, SC 29904, USA
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  • Justin W. Fischer,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO 80521, USA
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  • Michael P. Milleson,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA
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  • Eric A. Tillman,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA
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  • William E. Bruce,

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Florida Field Station, 2820 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32641, USA
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  • W. David Walter

    1. United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO 80521, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Bruce Thompson

Abstract

Growing vulture populations represent increasing hazards to civil and military aircraft. To assess vulture flight behavior and activity patterns at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina, we equipped 11 black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and 11 turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) with solar-powered Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transmitters during a 2-year study (1 Oct 2006–30 Sep 2008). Turkey vultures had larger seasonal home ranges than did black vultures, and 2 turkey vultures made round-trips to Florida. Black vultures consistently spent less time in flight (8.4%) than did turkey vultures (18.9%), and black vultures flew at higher altitudes than did turkey vultures in all seasons except summer when altitudinal distributions (above ground level) did not differ. Although we recorded maximum altitudes of 1,578 m for black vultures and 1,378 for turkey vultures, most flights were low altitude. A matrix of vulture flight altitude versus time of day revealed that >60% of vulture flight activity occurred from 4 hr to 9 hr after sunrise at altitudes below 200 m. Continuation of aggressive harassment coupled with flexible training schedules to avoid times and altitudes of high vulture activity will decrease hazards to aircraft posed by these birds. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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