Vhat vould your Vednesday be vithout vultures?

The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is a New World vulture that can be found throughout the southern United States, Central America, and as far south as central Chile. In general it is a non-migratory bird, although Black Vultures in the northern-most part of its range may travel south some distance during the winter. The Black Vulture’s preferred habitat is open grasslands surrounded by wooded areas, wetlands, swamps, and lowland forests.

Adult Black Vultures can have wingspans of up to 66 inches (1.67 meters). The largest specimens can reach 29 inches (74 cm) in body length and weigh almost 5 pounds (2.15 kg). True to its name, the Black Vulture has glossy black plumage and a bare, wrinkly head with dark gray/black skin. Rare leucistic specimens have been observed with all-white plumage, flying among flocks of black-feathered vultures.

The diet of Black Vultures consists primarily of carrion, but in areas where its range overlaps dense human populations it will feast on garbage. The Black Vulture is able to spot carcasses by flying overhead, or by following the lead of other scavenging birds. They are aggressive when feeding, and are capable of driving larger birds away. They don’t hunt much, but they can and do eat eggs and small, helpless animals (like newborns). They can also prey on cattle, by attacking and wounding newborn calves en masse. The calves then go into shock and die, allowing the vultures to feed.

Breeding season for the Black Vulture depends primarily on the latitude of its specific range. In Central America, they can breed as early as January, while in the northern part of the range generally wait until March. After a courtship ritual, mated pairs incubate the female’s clutch of two eggs. While they generally don’t build nests and prefer to lay in areas where the eggs have some cover (hollow logs or wooded areas), they may decorate the nesting place with brightly-colored or shiny objects. After about 40 days, the eggs will hatch. Both parents return to the nest to feed the hatchlings, which will fledge and be able to fly after about 80 days.

In general, the Black Vulture has a healthy population and a wide distribution, which makes it a species of least concern by the IUCN. Ranchers in particular come into conflict with them most often because of their predation of newborn calves, but they are also a problem when they nest in large numbers in areas adjacent to airports. There are currently three recognized subspecies of Black Vulture:

  • Coragyps atratus atratus (North America)
  • Coragyps atratus brasiliensis (Central America and the northern part of South America)
  • Coragyps atratus foetens (South America)

Source for all images used in this post.