Black VultureCoragyps atratus

adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adults
Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Description

Abundant in the southeast, scarce in the southwest is this broad-winged scavenger. In low flight, it proceeds with several quick flaps followed by a flat-winged glide; when rising thermals provide good lift, it soars very high above the ground. Usually seen in flocks. Shorter wings and tail make it appear smaller than Turkey Vulture, but looks are deceptive: body size is about the same, and aggressive Black Vultures often drive Turkey Vultures away from food.

Habitat

Open country; avoids higher mountains. Mostly found in flat lowlands, such as coastal plain. Forages over open country, but typically roosts and nests in forest, so is scarce in open plains. In Latin America, often common around cities and towns. Less likely than Turkey Vulture to fly over open water, so absent on many islands (such as Florida Keys).

Feeding Diet

Mostly carrion. Feeds on carcasses of dead animals of all sizes. At times also eats eggs of other birds, turtles, lizards. May kill and eat young of some birds, sea turtles; sometimes eats newborn young of larger mammals. Also eats some plant material, such as coconuts and rotting vegetables. Will scavenge scraps of refuse from garbage dumps.

Feeding Behavior

Often flies very high when foraging, watching for carrion or watching behavior of other vultures to locate food. May forage in family groups.

Nesting

In courtship display, birds may spiral high in air. On ground, male may walk in circles around female, with neck extended, making hissing sounds. Nest site is on ground in thicket, inside hollow log, in large tree cavity up to several feet above ground, or in cave; sometimes in abandoned building. Formerly used hollow tree sites more often (when more were available in southeast). No nest built. Eggs: 2, rarely 1 or 3. Pale gray-green, blotched with brown. Usually one egg of clutch more heavily marked than the other. Incubation is by both sexes, typically 37-41 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young remain in nest about 60 days, then may move to higher areas nearby; capable of flight at about 75-80 days. May be partly dependent on parents for several more months.

Eggs

2, rarely 1 or 3. Pale gray-green, blotched with brown. Usually one egg of clutch more heavily marked than the other. Incubation is by both sexes, typically 37-41 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young remain in nest about 60 days, then may move to higher areas nearby; capable of flight at about 75-80 days. May be partly dependent on parents for several more months.

Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young remain in nest about 60 days, then may move to higher areas nearby; capable of flight at about 75-80 days. May be partly dependent on parents for several more months.

Conservation

Has expanded range northward in the northeast, but has declined in parts of southeast. Loss of good nest sites (in large tree hollows) may be one cause.

Range

Some withdraw in winter from northern part of range (although increasing numbers now spend the winter in the north, usually with roosts of Turkey Vultures). Strays may wander north of breeding range at any season, especially late summer.

Similar Species

adult

Turkey Vulture

A familiar sight in the sky over much of North America is the dark, long-winged form of the Turkey Vulture, soaring high over the landscape. Most birds are believed to have a very poor sense of smell, but the Turkey Vulture is an exception, apparently able to find carrion by odor.

adult

Common Black-Hawk

In the arid southwest, this hawk is limited to the edges of flowing streams. A bulky bird, with very broad wings, short tail, and long legs, it usually hunts low along streams, even wading in the water at times, catching fish, frogs, and other small creatures. Although it seems sluggish, it is wary, calling loudly in alarm if people approach the nest. Common Black Hawks have abandoned some former nesting areas because of too much human disturbance.

Crested Caracara

Related to the typical falcons, but very different in shape and habits. The Crested Caracara is a strikingly patterned, broad-winged opportunist that often feeds on carrion. Aggressive, it may chase vultures away from road kills. Widespread in the American tropics, it enters our area only near the Mexican border and in Florida. "Caracara" comes from a South American Indian name, based on the bird's call.

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