Behind her counter in the gift shop at Anhinga Trail, the first and most popular tourist stop in Everglades National Park, Linda Hyde keeps a secret weapon against forbidding creatures that spent much of the winter lurking in the parking lot and preying on random visitors and staffers.
Not pythons, gators, panthers or even infamously blood-thirsty mosquitoes.
Some of the big black birds, known primarily for dining on the dead and decaying, also have developed an appetite for something unusual: car parts.
Windshield wipers, door seals and — especially scrumptious — sunroof seals. Anything rubber, but vinyl will do, too.
The birds, mostly black vultures native to much of the Southeast, have trashed visitor and staff cars and trucks and the occasional boat at Flamingo, an outpost on Florida Bay. The park has received seven complaints and one lawsuit seeking $700 to cover repairs, but most damage goes unreported.
The problem isn't unique. Vultures across the country have munched on cars, roof shingles, pool screens and an array of stuff for reasons that biologists admit remains a mystery. The park has tried several anti-vulture schemes, yelling at birds, even dangling dead ones upside down — a scare-vulture that has worked well in many spots.
In the Everglades, the effigy results were mixed.
"The first few days they had it up there, oooh, it was eerie around here," recalled Hyde, who lost a windshield seal on her Ford Explorer to vultures. "The birds and crows were flying around them like crazy."
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