Lake Milton Raptor Center

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
Classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Cathartidae
  • Genus: Coragyps
  • Species: Coragyps atratus
  • Geographic Range

    Black Vultures are resident in tropical and warm temperate from southern Canada to southern South America including continental United States of America. In the northern parts of their range they have a southward migration in the fall and a returning spring migration.

    Habitat

    The Black Vulture prefers an open habitat and avoids dense forests as much as possible. Such habitats include lowlands with adjacent highlands, open fields, desert terrain, garbage dumps, and urban or rural centers.

    Physical Description

    Mass 2 to 2.70 kg; avg.

    The Black Vulture is black, large bird with a wingspan of 137-152 cm, a length of 50-69. The sexes are alike and the adults and the young have black, wrinkled bare skin on the head and neck. Adults have brown. Black Vultures have weak feet, adapted more for running than for clutching and relatively weak bills. The black vulture's feet stretch past its short tail. In flight, a short, square tail and a large white patch on the undersurface of the wing at the base of the primaries distinguishes them from turkey vultures, another large new world vulture which often occurs in the same area. These birds have been observed to live as long as 21 years in captivity and the oldest wild captured banded bird was 16 years old.

    Reproduction

    Black Vultures are monogamous breeders that hatch one brood per breeding season in open lowlands, highlands, and garbage dumps. They lay their eggs in hollow bases of trees or stumps at a height of 10 -- 15 feet, on the floor of shallow caves, on the floor of abandoned farm buildings, on cliff edges, on the ground under dense vegetation, in holes under rocks, in hollow logs, and in crevices in city buildings. They do not use materials to build their nests. Usually two eggs are laid that are pale grey-green or pale blue with brown spots or blotches. Both parents incubate eggs for 32 to 41 days and the young fledge, or leave the nest, at 63 to 70 days old. Natural hybrids have been observed between the Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture in captivity.

    Behavior

    The Black Vulture has quick labored flight consisting of several wing flaps followed by a period of short glide. This vulture hunts by sight not smell, and usually soars higher and later in the day as compared to its close relative the Turkey Vulture. When hunting, the vulture rides thermals upwards for terrestrial soaring while only flapping wings from time to time. The Black Vulture forages later in the day and is more aggressive when it reaches the animal carcass therefore it effectively drives out other scavengers especially the Turkey Vulture. Usually the vultures are silent but may hiss, grunt, and utter low barking sounds when fighting over food source. Black Vulture males court a female in a small group that walks around her with wings spread partly and rapid head bobbing. They are highly social, forming flocks to forage and roosting in large aggregations. These vultures form family units by associating with immediate kin and extended relatives. When startled, the vulture will regurgitate food that it has just eaten in order to be able to take off to fly.

    Food Habits

    Black Vultures tend to gather around garbage dumps, sewers, and slaughterhouses in search of carrion and scavenge along roadsides for road kill. These vultures are known to kill baby herons on nesting colonies, and feed on domestic ducks, newborn calves, small mammals, small birds, eggs, skunks, opossums, ripe or rotten fruit or vegetables and young turtles. Black Vultures are opportunistic predators who tend to gorge themselves when they find a suitable food source.

    Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

    Black Vultures have been associated with depredations of livestock or pets and damage to real estate or personal property. Congregations of the vulture cause damage to property, nuisance complaints, and are considered health concerns by producing foul odors. Black vultures are known to kill cattle, calves, and farm-raised deer. Black Vulture is becoming an increasing problem in the garbage dumps of large urban centers.

    Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

    The Black Vulture effectively scavenges carrion such as road kill to recycle the dead animal matter from the landscape.

    Conservation Status

    The Black Vulture is very common but in 1972 it was blue-listed for two reasons: a decrease in numbers of suitable tree cavities for nest sites due to forest fire control, and widespread eggshell thinning from pesticides such as DDT. Its populations have rebounded and it now considered a pest species due to population explosion in urban centers.