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Vultures are being accused of developing a taste for the cars of visitors traveling to the Florida Everglades. Steven Hammer, who saw such an episode up close, and Ron Magill of Zoo Miami spoke about the issue.
Vultures, never popular with the public, are now being accused of developing a taste for the cars of visitors traveling to the Florida Everglades.
Several videos uploaded onto YouTube capture what looks like a new addition to the food chain – rubber car parts, being chewed by vultures.
Steven Hammer shot video of a family of vultures around an unlikely dinner table – a gray truck – during his last trip to the Everglades about two years ago.
"You see signs that say birds might rip up your car, that's just kind of strange,” said Hammer, who is an assistant professor at Indian River State College.
The problem has been affecting unsuspecting car owners in the Everglades for years, but the pesky behavior has become more prevalent, said Ron Magill of Zoo Miami.
"These vultures are learning from other vultures. I think some vultures kind of learned it,” Magill said. “In the beginning they go ‘hey, look at this, this is fun, hey,’ and other vultures, ‘hey, this is fun.’”
Vultures who normally fly over the dead carcasses of animals appear to be making a buffet out of the rubber in cars, from sunroof seals to windshield wipers, in the videos.
But they aren't actually eating the rubber parts at all.
"They're perfecting a skill that they need to survive,” Magill said.
He explained that the rubber is the same texture as a dead animal’s skin.
“The vulture needs to get into that skin to get into the innards, to the goodies, sort of speak,” Magill said.
But visitors aren't exactly volunteering their cars for dinner practice. Park rangers even tried effigies of dead vultures to scare them away.
"It wasn't a great first image when you’re coming to the national park, and plus they start to develop an odor,” Magill said.
Officials at Everglades National Park have had some success with these anti-vulture kits – essentially blue tarp and bungee cords – used to deter the birds from munching on the windshield wipers.
“Vultures are getting a little bit of a bad rap here, but the bottom line is they provide us with a huge service,” Magill said. “They’re cleaning up things that can in effect be transporters of disease.”