They bought a 700k vacation home in West Palm Beach’s luxurious Ibis community. Little did they know it would be attacked by hundreds of vomiting vultures.
WEST PALM BEACH - The Casimanos, a young couple from New York with a 2-year-old, bought at the Ibis Golf and Country Club in April, looking forward to using it for vacations.
The spacious $702,000 home on Wildcat Run featured three bedrooms, a screen-enclosed pool and a three-quarter-acre lot overlooking a natural area near the Everglades-like Grassy Waters Preserve.
But there was one community feature they didn’t know about: A neighbor had a habit of feeding the wildlife.
Less than four months after they bought in the luxurious development, they can’t even visit anymore ("the smell is like a thousand rotting corpses") and they fear for their child, said Siobhan Casimano, in a call to The Palm Beach Post this week from New York.
The problem: Dozens, if not hundreds, of black vultures have taken over the yard and others, torn apart screened enclosures and made pools, patios and barbecues their own. The Casimanos, when in town, have to garage their car or the birds encircle it and dent it with their beaks, she said.
The birds go for regular feedings in the neighbor’s yard, then roost on and around surrounding houses, Casimano said.
"The vultures just vomit everywhere," she said. "Defecating and vomiting. It’s just gross. We can’t even go back down to the house."
Down the street, neighbor Cheryl Katz says she has it worse, because she lives next to the lady who feeds the birds.
In May, 20 vultures tore into Katz’ pool enclosure, couldn’t figure out how to get out and attacked each other in a panicked frenzy.
"Imagine 20 large vultures trapped, biting each other - and they can bite through bones," she said. "They would bang against my windows running away from a bird that was attacking them. Blood was everywhere. It was a vile, vicious, traumatic event. And it was Memorial Day, so no company I called would come out to help me."
After several hours, three police officers arrived, removed the damaged screens and shooed the vultures away.
Katz has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer that leaves her vulnerable to infections. "These birds bring a lot of bacteria, so I could not go outside," she said. "I had to have someone power wash twice before I could go out there."
Katz wanted to sell her house and move but a lawyer told her she’d have to disclose the problem to prospective buyers or risk a lawsuit. Nobody would buy a house with that problem, so she dropped the plans, she said.
The women place the blame on elderly neighbor Irma Acosta Arya, of 6106 Wildcat Run, who they said puts food out - lots of it - for vultures, raccoons and other wildlife. Katz says Arya puts out four 20-pound bags of dog food a couple of times a week -- 160 pounds of it.
Katz knows, she said, because she sees Arya’s silhouette through the hedges, and sees the empty dog food bags in the recycling bin. Arya doesn’t have a dog, Katz noted.
And it’s not just dog food. Arya puts roasted chickens out there. And trays of sandwiches made with white bread.
"I drove in my driveway and saw the cutest raccoon holding a sandwich in both hands and eating it," Katz said.
But "cute" is not a word on which she lingers. "A feeding event is nauseating. And when the birds are done they sit on my roof, on my trees. My pool guy’s afraid to come here."
Phone messages left for Arya were not returned. "They won’t answer the phone or an email," Katz said.
According to Katz, and confirmed by Gordon Holness, president of the Ibis Property Owners Association, the POA and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission have warned Arya.
She used to wade into the swamp to feed the alligators, Katz claims. That’s a big no-no in Florida, which wildlife authorities discourage, lest it breed dangerous familiarity between man and beast.
Fish and Wildlife officers pulled an adult alligator out of the area as a result and took it off-site to shoot it, she said. Arya stopped feeding gators after that but catered to the other animals.
Complaints started coming in to the POA this spring, Holness said. Vultures weren’t a problem before at Ibis, he said.
Made for comfort, not Hitchcock-like horror, it’s a 1,887-acre development that boasts 1,841 houses, with three golf courses designed by the Jack Nicklaus family. It’s the kind of a place more likely to field a vulture capitalist than a field of vultures. Until a few years ago, Ibis was the home of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.
But times have changed, at least on Wildcat Run. "They’re big birds, so they do a lot of damage to screen enclosures and the like," Holness said.
When complaints started, "We called Fish and Wildlife in to give the lady a warning. We also issued a violation notice. She has to appear in front of our Rules and Compliance Committee and will get a fine," he said.
That meeting wasn’t scheduled until October but was moved up to early September. She’ll also get a cease and desist order from Ibis’ lawyer, and the community is calling Fish and Wildlife back to issue her a citation, he said.
The association is limited in what it can do, as migratory birds are protected by federal law. You can’t kill them or harass them, he said.
"The good news is, we have an abundance of wildlife here," Holness said. "The bad news is...."
Stan Smith, a program assistant in agriculture and natural resources at the Ohio State University Extension, said that unlike the more benign turkey vulture, if a black vulture is hungry it won’t hesitate to attack house pets. Casimano would be wise to keep her 2-year-old away from the birds, he agreed.
Farmers in the Midwest have learned that the birds will even attack a calf being born, Smith said. "And because they are federally ’protected,’ if you kill the black vulture in an effort to protect your livestock, you’re subject to prosecution for violating federal law. Go figure."
His advice: Get a federal permit to kill one of the vultures, then hang it in a tree or other spot where other vultures can see it for miles around. Or, have a taxidermist stuff one, and that will last and keep them away for years, he said.
"A black-headed vulture will not go within eyesight of its own dead, which is bizarre. They eat roadkill but if they see their own, they will not go near it," Smith said.
Katz, though, said she spoke to someone at the U.S. Wildlife Service and learned it’s hard to get a permit to kill one. The option is to get someone to kill one on the sly and claim it was found dead, but you can go to jail for that, she said.
Some people have tried fireworks or balloons, to scare off the birds. That doesn’t work for long, though. One neighbor put up a stuffed animal effigy, she said.
Katz put four fake owls on her house, with moving heads and lights that blink.
"The vultures chewed the owls apart. They ripped the heads off."
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