United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has lost control of a radio tower in Texas—not to a downed power line or a bizarre frequency fritz, but to a flock of well-fed vultures that arrived to unceremoniously drop a deuce.
The 320-foot tower, located in the city of Kingsville, is now entirely coated in the feces, urine and vomit of some 300 vultures who first began calling the facility home over six years ago, according to a CBP document. Bathed in this nauseating soup, railings, catwalks, supports and other structures around and inside the tower—many of which workers come into direct contact with—have become “a safety hazard,” Leah Asmelash and Hollie Silverman report for CNN.
Concerned that the infestation will compromise their ability to exchange intel on trade and border security, government officials are seeking to obtain a “Vulture Deterrence Netting System” that would make the tower less appealing to land on, before the birds’ roosting season begins in late summer or fall.
The fear of gazing skyward into a haze of fast-pooping scavengers—which will apparently also drop their prey from heights of 300 feet or more—is reason enough to call in sick to work, but the vultures pose more than a psychological hazard. Coming into contact with their feces can also put people at risk of infectious diseases, including histoplasmosis and Salmonella, reports Justin Rohrlich for Quartz. Their sharp nails and beaks leave deep scratches in humans and machines alike, and the “reeking and corrosive vomit” they regurgitate to kill bacteria on their bodies can slowly eat away at metal. Creaking under the weight of the birds and their odious bodily fluids, the radio tower is becoming increasingly dangerous for workers to climb and maintain.
Even the tower’s surrounding regions are now strewn with the birds’ excrement and carnage, as they fling bones aside and puke up bits of undigested fur and flesh, reports Marisa Iati for the Washington Post. The soil surrounding the facility is also smeared with with the same slurry of “droppings mixed with urine” that coats the tower itself, officials described in the document.
What exactly makes the radio tower such a choice piece of vulture real estate remains unclear. But CBP’s next goal is to reduce the roost’s allure—ideally by accessorizing the tower with strong netting after it’s cleaned and repainted.
Other solutions to the vulture quandary exist, but vary in their legality and effectiveness. The birds are smart enough to avoid areas where other vultures died, but killing vultures has been illegal for more than a century, and comes with a hefty $200,000 fine and a potential prison sentence of up to a year, Rohrlich reports. One workaround could involve hanging freeze-dried, taxidermied, or replica vulture carcasses from the tower to the same effect.
Another option is fireworks, which would likely scare the crap out of vultures, then keep them and their crap away, Rohrlich reports. But the noise would pose a disturbance to locals as well, and might not have lasting effects.
Netting, then, seems to be an ideal choice—one that’s both sustainable and unlikely to ruffle many feathers. Despite their droppings, vultures can be our allies as well. As Iati reports, their scavenging ways can keep our living spaces free of rotting animal carcasses and the diseases they tend to carry.