The black vulture is a vulture of the New World family found in the Americas. They are close in appearance to the Eurasian black vulture, but the two are unrelated. As the name indicates, they are covered with black feathers. Like other vultures, they are scavengers feeding primarily on carcasses.
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They are also known as the American Black Vulture and are federally protected in the United States under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Size: Length: 22–29 in (56–74 cm)
Weight: 2.6 – 6.6 lb (1.2-3 kg)
Wingspan: 52–66 in (1.33–1.67 m)
Body and Coloration: There isn’t any noticeable sexual dimorphism. There are no feathers on their head and neck, exposing their wrinkled skin. The wings of the black vulture are short but wide, and the tail is short, barely reaching past the wings.
Their plumage is black and glossy, and their skin is grey. Their legs are greyish-white, but the coloration is hard to distinguish because of their feces.
The black vulture can be found throughout the Americas, from the north-eastern United States and Mexico to Peru, Central Chile, and Uruguay in South America.
This vulture prefers open land interspersed with woody or bushy areas as well as grasslands, moist lowland forests, pastures, shrublands, swamps, wetlands, as well as forests damaged by heavy degradation. They are often seen soaring or perched on fence posts or dead trees in civilized areas.
In the wild, the black vulture eats mainly carrion, while in areas populated by humans, it scavenges at garbage dumps eating decomposing plant material, dung, eggs, fruit, and fish.
They will feed on livestock and deer and are the only species of New World vulture that preys on cattle, primarily newborn calves. They are known to remove and eat ticks from certain large mammals like capybaras and Baird’s tapir. These vultures also feed on baby herons, domestic ducks, small birds and mammals, skunks, opossums, and young turtles.
The black vulture lives for 10 years in the wild on average but can live up to 25 years.
They hold their wings horizontally and flap them in short bursts, followed by short periods of gliding.
Like other New World vultures, it will defecate on its legs to cool itself during hot periods.
Since they come without a vocal organ, the black vulture remains mostly silent and communicate through hisses and grunts when agitated.
These vultures generally forage in groups late in the day, locating food either by sight or by following other vultures to carcasses.
While they are often seen roosting in groups, even alongside other vulture species like the Turkey vulture, they become aggressive while feeding, fending off other scavengers when doing so.
Like other vultures, it is often seen spreading its wings. It does so to dry itself, warm itself during colder periods, and kill bacteria with heat.
Adults are rarely preyed upon, but eggs and chicks are attacked by coatis, foxes, and raccoons.
Similar to other vultures, the black vulture has a bald head, which prevents its face from getting covered in pieces of dead flesh, keeping it disease-free.
They have excellent senses, most notably their vision, which they use to watch other vultures, tracking them while they hunt for food.
Their long and hooked beak helps them tear flesh easily.
Mating and Reproduction
The black vulture’s breeding season varies with the latitude they live. For instance, in the United States, mating takes place from January to March, while in South America, it’s around September to October, with some breeding even later in November or even February. They are monogamous, forming a pair for life after a courtship ritual. This ritual involves a few males circling a female keeping their wings partially open while strutting around and bobbing their heads. Some vultures fly with their partner, diving down and chasing one another while searching for a suitable place to raise their young. Their nests are built on the ground, mostly around locations like the base of a large tree or rocky crevices. Interestingly, while they rarely use nesting materials, they will sometimes decorate the area around it with items like shards of glass or bottle caps.
Each annual clutch consists of two pale green-blue eggs, hatching between 32 and 45 days. The chicks are covered in buff-colored down feathers. Both parents sit on the nest and initially feed the chicks regurgitated, liquefied food. Once they are two weeks old, they receive some solid foods.
Even after fledging, the juveniles often remain with their parents. They then roost with older vultures to learn how to hunt for themselves by watching experienced vultures do so.
As per the IUCN, the black vulture is classified as “Least Concern” or “LC”, with the population currently stable.
When a flock of vultures are in flight, they are called a ‘kettle’, but when they are on the ground feeding on a carcass, they are called a ‘wake’.
The oldest known black vulture was recorded at 25 years and 6 months, indicating that they may live longer in captivity.
In Lima, Peru, the black vulture is often seen and is regarded as a symbol of the poverty faced by several of the residents of the city. However, a project has been developed called “Gallinazo Avisa,” or “Vultures Warn,” which involves using the birds to locate illegal waste dumps with the help of GPS devices and cameras.
Large congregations of this vulture can cause threats to aerial traffic, such as in Tom Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.