Get to know the not-so-scary black vulture

Discovery Place Nature

There are two types of vultures in the Charlotte area and the one more commonly spotted is the Black Vulture. These large birds have bulky bodies, thick gray legs and bald heads with gray skin. Their feathers are glossy and jet black. They are seen midday riding on warm gusts of wind called thermals.

Black vultures are social creatures

Black vultures are very social birds that live in groups that can have dozens of individuals, most of whom are related. The younger birds stay with their parents for several months after fledging until they seek a mate of their own, and the night roosts of Black Vultures contain mostly related individuals (such as sets of parents, their siblings and their offspring).

These vultures are monogamous and spend years with one mate, raising one to three offspring per clutch of eggs, usually in the same location annually. They don’t build a nest; instead, they lay their eggs on the ground in bare areas like caves, tree hollows and even modern structures like parking garages and abandoned buildings.

Black vultures are not their stigma

This species spends most days soaring hundreds of feet up in the air, scanning the ground below for carcasses to feed on. They do not have a good sense of smell, unlike the turkey vulture, so they watch the movements of the other species and follow them to a carcass. Because of the great service that they provide by cleaning up carcasses off roadways and other human-inhabited areas, black vultures are valued by scientists at $16,000 per year per bird.

Unsurprisingly, these birds can’t sing; in fact, the only noises they can make are grunting, squealing and hissing noises. They also communicate using the positions of their necks, wings, and their body postures.

Smarter and stronger together

The vultures at a communal roost gather each evening and they recognize one another, chasing off unwanted or unrelated individuals. If one vulture was unsuccessful at foraging that day, scientists have observed them following a successful member of the flock to a carcass the next day.

While black vultures are mostly scavengers, they will sometimes take the opportunity to kill and eat sickly, weakened or newborn animals or the eggs of birds or reptiles. This causes them to sometimes run afoul of ranchers when they encounter newborn calves or lambs but it is illegal to harm these birds and best to allow stock animals to give birth indoors when possible to avoid any kind of predation.

Habits and habitats of the black vulture

Black vultures are highly sociable with humans and they are very intelligent. Many of the typical abatement techniques to scare off unwanted birds do not work with black vultures because they are smart enough to know that they will not be harmed by bright lights, noises, shining objects and so on. This also presents a problem in wildlife rehab because these birds can imprint on their caretakers and become non-releasable very easily.

  • Written by
  • Erin Fisher