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Species Description

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Cathartidae

Description

Black overall, with a black bald head. 64 cm (25 in) in length; 145 cm (57 in) wing span. Most of the wing appears black, except a few of the outer flight feathers which create large white-appearing patches near the outer edges of the wings. The wings are broad, and the feet extend to or beyond the tail.

Life Cycle

The breeding season occurs from January to July, peaking in March-April. This species will nest in a variety of situations, including on the ground under shrubs, on a cliff, in sheds or barns, or in a hollow log. No nest is built. The female lays 1-3 (usually 2) eggs that she and the male incubate for 37-48 days. The young are semi-altricial and are cared for by the adults for 80-94 days after they hatch.

Natural History

This species is a carrion feeder, eating almost any type of dead animal. The Black Vulture also preys on some small vertebrates, including young birds and small mammals. It can be commonly seen on the roadside eating vehicle-killed animals. The Black Vulture uses mostly sight to find its food. In the evening, many individuals roost together. When frightened, the Black Vulture responds by swiftly regurgitating its last meal in the direction of whomever or whatever has frightened it.

Range

Black Vulture Region Map Within the United States, the Black Vulture occurs all year in the Southeast, most of the population occurring from Texas east through Florida and north to Pennsylvania. Population numbers are low to medium throughout its range. The species is most common in central Florida, southern Mississippi, southeastern Louisiana, and southeastern Texas. The Black Vulture is fairly common throughout Georgia.

Conservation Status

The Black Vulture is listed as Threatened in the state of North Carolina. Decline of the species was originally due to eggshell thinning from pesticides and loss of nesting habitat. Some pesticides, especially DDT, can cause females to lay eggs with thin or no eggshells. If the shell is thin, the weight of the incubating adult commonly cracks or breaks the egg.

Similar Species

The most similar species to the Black Vulture is the Turkey Vulture. Seen from below during flight, the wings of the Turkey Vulture appear to have two colors, with gray flight feathers and black on the inner part of the wing. Its head is bald and red. While flying, the Turkey Vulture's wings create a shallow "V" shape with its body.