Photo: Arthur Morris/Vireo

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family New World Vultures
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).
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.
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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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Hisses or grunts; seldom heard.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.