Pyrotechnics training

Adam Henry (left) of the USDA Wildlife Service trains Greenville Animal Shelter Staff on the safe and effective usage of pyrotechnics to scare away vultures.

Please note that this story has been corrected since it originally ran in the Thursday, June 13 issue of the Herald-Banner. It has been clarified that the killing of vultures is always prohibited be federal law.

Back in March, Greenville Animal Control began using specially-designed pyrotechnics in an effort to scare vultures away from a cell tower in the Ardis Heights neighborhood of Greenville, where the birds had been roosting for about a decade, causing property damage and disruption in the lives of people who lived below.

About a month later though, animal control had to temporarily cease with the deterrent with the beginning of the vultures’ egg laying season, when it’s against federal law to harass them, due to their protected status.

Please note that federal law also prohibits the killing of vultures any time of year.

Since the beginning of the hiatus from using the pyrotechnics, some residents have reported that the buzzards are starting to return.

“The vultures are back,” said Mary Jane Vance, whose 88-year-old sister, Emma Smith, lives adjacent to the tower. “The pyrotechnics worked for a while, but now that they had to stop, the vultures are coming back to the tower.

According to Greenville City Attorney Daniel Ray, the vultures’ egg laying season is expected to end sometime in August – as it varies year-to-year, depending on the weather – and animal control will resume its work with the pyrotechnics.

“We already have permission from the Texas Wildlife Service to use the pyrotechnics, and we won’t have to reapply or anything like that once their nesting season is over,” Ray said.

The push for the use of pyrotechnics to deter the vultures from roosting in the cell tower in northeast Greenville began after the Herald-Banner ran a story in its Jan. 22 issue from the Cleburne Times-Review about how animal control personnel in their city were employing the tactic.

After the running of that story, then Greenville City Councilman James Evans brought up the issue during the closing remarks at a city council meeting in January, where he described Smith’s plight.

Over 10-or-so years, the turkey vultures roosting in the tower by her house made checking her mailbox and greeting friends and family when they’ve come to visit a scary proposition as the vultures have overfilled the tower, forcing some to roost atop her home’s pitched roof.

After looking into the legalities of using pyrotechnics as a non-lethal way of deterring vultures, since they are a protected species, City Manager Summer Spurlock arranged for personnel with the Texas Wildlife Service to conduct a training of Greenville Animal Control Staff so that the same sort of deterrent could be administered.

The special training was necessary due to the many safety precautions that have to be taken into account when firing the pyrotechnics from their pistol-like launcher.

When the vultures’ laying season is over, for about a month, the pyrotechnics will be deployed near the cell tower daily at around dusk, since that tends to be the time of day when the vultures congregate en masse on or around the cell tower.

After that, the firing of the pyrotechnics will be used once or twice per week.

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email