LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe this story. It's 100 percent true, though.
Feathered vandals are striking at the Joe Wheeler Dam boat ramp in Elgin. In many cases, they're doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to vehicles.
Truck owners are mad, insurance companies are paying claims and wildlife officials say their hands are tied because the ones doing the damage are protected by federal law. The culprits are black vultures.
Even on a week day, the boat ramp on the south end of Wheeler Dam is a busy place. Fisherman head out to fill their limits on catfish, stripe and whatever else may be biting.
But this summer, many have come back to the dock to find their trucks picked apart by vultures. The birds often go after windshield wipers, rubber seals on doors and other pieces they can pick off.
"When we got back to the truck probably three hours later, they had done all the damage," said Ray Hamm.
The culprits don't try to hide. The black vultures roost in plain sight at the boat ramp. WHNT News 19 saw them picking at a truck while we were there.
"They tore the rubber around the windshields off," said Hamm, talking about the damage done to his truck. "They tore the rubber around the windshields off. They tore the windshield wipers off. They scratched the hood up."
Hamm says the vultures did nearly $1,500 worth of damage to his truck alone. State Farm covered the claim, and told Hamm he isn't the first to file for damage like this.
Tuesday morning, we spotted the vultures snacking on a red truck. Hamm says he sees this happen on a daily basis. So much, in fact, he stopped leaving his truck here.
Hamm wants to warn other fishermen about the problem with the vultures, and hopes TVA will find a solution to this growing problem. However, the birds are protected.
What causes the vultures to eat rubber off trucks?
"It's just a behavioral thing they have," said Keith Hudson, a Wildlife Biologist. "They pick around on a lot of stuff. I think the rubber has the texture they associate with food."
The vultures' meal of choice may seem strange to humans, but Hudson says it's nothing new.
"I would say it's common. Of course, not all of them do it all the time, but it is not unusual," Hudson said.
This problem isn't just happening in Lawrence County. Vultures are also picking at vehicles in parts of Florida, including Everglades National Park. The park has put up signs warning visitors about the birds, and has even offered tarps for people to use and then return, once they leave the park.