How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund doesn't work directly with Black Vultures, but our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve raptors around the world. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation. We also celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day every September. You can help by celebrating this important day in your school, community or at home.
Where They Live
The Black Vulture lives throughout much of Mexico and into Central America and most of South America. It also ranges north into in the southeastern portion of the United States. Though generally not migratory, some individuals that live in the northern part of the range travel short distances to warmer climates in winter.
The Black Vulture is not common at higher altitudes. Instead, it is more commonly found in lowland and middle elevations. Though it can be seen in forested regions and other natural habitats, it prefers open areas and is actually much more abundant in human-occupied towns and villages. It seems to particularly enjoy congregating around trash cans and garbage dumps.
What They Do
With a bright black belly, black back and black wings with white wing tips, it is easy to see how this vulture got its name. It has red eyes, a bald, grayish head with wrinkles that resemble those of a turkey, and pale grayish feet.
The Black Vulture is by no means a solitary species. It occurs in flocks of a few individuals to hundreds of individuals, particularly around urban garbage dumps.
Like the California Condor, Black Vultures have featherless heads. When feeding, vultures sometimes need to stick their heads deep into the cavities of dead animals to get to the juiciest bits! At times like these, a bald head is very useful – otherwise bits of flesh, blood, or other fluids might get stuck on their feathers, creating quite a mess. Though vultures spend a lot of time preening, or cleaning their feathers, it would be impossible for them to clean their own heads.
The Black Vulture typically soars at greater heights than the Turkey Vulture. It holds its wings flat and alternates between soaring and flapping with heavy, slow wingbeats. Unlike the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture is not as gifted in the olfactory sense. It depends solely on visual cues and the behavior of other vultures to locate food, rather than by its sense of smell.
At carcasses, Black Vultures tend to dominate over Turkey Vultures and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures. These birds can become so tame that they enter houses and steal food!
Why They Need our Help
Despite the fact that people have shot and persecuted Black Vultures, this species is abundant and, in fact, it is expanding its range in eastern North America and into some deforested areas of Central America.
The Black Vulture, as well as the Turkey Vulture, has been subjected to local population control by poisoning and trapping in the southern United States (up to the present time) and in other countries. Currently, the IUCN classifies this beautiful bird as a species of Least Concern. This means just what it sounds like. That scientists aren't very concerned about the future of this species.
What They Eat
The Black Vulture is mainly a scavenger, but essentially will eat just about anything it can get its beak on. They feed on small- to large-sized dead animals from cows, horses and tapirs, to monkeys, opossums, coyotes, armadillos, agoutis, snakes, toads, raccoons, and to just about everything else they might come across.
Researchers have also observed these vultures feeding on turtle eggs and fruits, including bananas, palm fruits, coconuts and avocados. They have been seen spending time on the beach - searching for dead fish washed up to shore. Black Vultures are also been known to prey on small or helpless live animals such as newborn calves, tortoises, and lambs.
Black Vultures often soar high up in the sky in search of prey. They will often keep their eyes open for another vulture species, the Turkey Vulture, to let it know when food is available. Since Turkey Vulture's have a strong sense of smell, they can usually detect a dead animal quicker than other vulture species do.
Nest, Eggs, and Young
Black Vultures don't build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs directly on the ground in a relatively protected area such as a cave, between large rocks, at the base of a tree, in piles of rocks, under dense vegetation, or in a hollow stump. In parts of its range, it also nests on top of high buildings, or in accessible abandoned structures. In Panama, a pair nested on the ground below an outdoor staircase of an abandoned house.
The female almost always lays two eggs, which are usually a pale green color and marked with brown splotches. Both the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs for about 38-45 days before the nestlings hatch. The young are covered in grayish down. When the nestlings are very young, the adults must feed them often to make sure they grow into healthy birds. But, they don’t bring prey back to the nest in their talons like many other birds of prey do. Instead, they feed their young regurgitated food from their own digestive system.
As the young develop, their feathers grow out and in about three months they are ready to fledge or fly for the first time. They stay with their parents in a social group for years.
Black Vulture and The World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. The visitor center offers interactive displays, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes and a touch table for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey, including a Turkey Vulture and California Condor, on display year-around. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Black Vultures or any other bird of prey.
Buckley, N. J. (2020). Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.blkvul.01
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Black Vulture Coragyps atratus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 11 Aug. 2021