Coragyps atratusblack vulture

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Geographic Range

Black Vultures are resident in tropical and warm temperate from southern Canada to southern South America including continental United States of America. In the northern parts of their range they have a southward migration in the fall and a returning spring migration. (Terres, 1980)

Habitat

The Black Vulture prefers an open habitat and avoids dense forests as much as possible. Such habitats include lowlands with adjacent highlands, open fields, desert terrain, garbage dumps, and urban or rural centers. (Terres, 1980)

Physical Description

The Black Vulture is black, large bird with a wingspan of 137-152 cm, a length of 50-69. The sexes are alike and the adults and the young have black, wrinkled bare skin on the head and neck. Adults have brown. Black Vultures have weak feet, adapted more for running than for clutching and relatively weak bills. The black vulture's feet stretch past its short tail. In flight, a short, square tail and a large white patch on the undersurface of the wing at the base of the primaries distinguishes them from turkey vultures, another large new world vulture which often occurs in the same area. These birds have been observed to live as long as 21 years in captivity and the oldest wild captured banded bird was 16 years old.

(Terres 1980)

  • Range mass
    2000 to 2700 g
    70.48 to 95.15 oz

Reproduction

Black Vultures are monogamous breeders that hatch one brood per breeding season in open lowlands, highlands, and garbage dumps. They lay their eggs in hollow bases of trees or stumps at a height of 10 -- 15 feet, on the floor of shallow caves, on the floor of abandoned farm buildings, on cliff edges, on the ground under dense vegetation, in holes under rocks, in hollow logs, and in crevices in city buildings. They do not use materials to build their nests. Usually two eggs are laid that are pale grey-green or pale blue with brown spots or blotches. Both parents incubate eggs for 32 to 41 days and the young fledge, or leave the nest, at 63 to 70 days old. Natural hybrids have been observed between the Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture in captivity.

(Terres 1980)

  • Average eggs per season
    2
    AnAge
  • Average time to hatching
    35 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The Black Vulture has quick labored flight consisting of several wing flaps followed by a period of short glide. This vulture hunts by sight not smell, and usually soars higher and later in the day as compared to its close relative the Turkey Vulture. When hunting, the vulture rides thermals upwards for terrestrial soaring while only flapping wings from time to time. The Black Vulture forages later in the day and is more aggressive when it reaches the animal carcass therefore it effectively drives out other scavengers especially the Turkey Vulture. Usually the vultures are silent but may hiss, grunt, and utter low barking sounds when fighting over food source. Black Vulture males court a female in a small group that walks around her with wings spread partly and rapid head bobbing. They are highly social, forming flocks to forage and roosting in large aggregations. These vultures form family units by associating with immediate kin and extended relatives. When startled, the vulture will regurgitate food that it has just eaten in order to be able to take off to fly.

(Terres 1980)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Black Vultures tend to gather around garbage dumps, sewers, and slaughterhouses in search of carrion and scavenge along roadsides for road kill. These vultures are known to kill baby herons on nesting colonies, and feed on domestic ducks, newborn calves, small mammals, small birds, eggs, skunks, opossums, ripe or rotten fruit or vegetables and young turtles. Black Vultures are opportunistic predators who tend to gorge themselves when they find a suitable food source.

(Terres 1980)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Black Vulture effectively scavenges carrion such as road kill to recycle the dead animal matter from the landscape.

(Terres 1980)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Black Vultures have been associated with depredations of livestock or pets and damage to real estate or personal property. Congregations of the vulture cause damage to property, nuisance complaints, and are considered health concerns by producing foul odors. Black vultures are known to kill cattle, calves, and farm-raised deer. Black Vulture is becoming an increasing problem in the garbage dumps of large urban centers.

(Lowney 1999)

Conservation Status

The Black Vulture is very common but in 1972 it was blue-listed for two reasons: a decrease in numbers of suitable tree cavities for nest sites due to forest fire control, and widespread eggshell thinning from pesticides such as DDT. Its populations have rebounded and it now considered a pest species due to population explosion in urban centers.

(Terres 1980)

Contributors

Glen Elliott (author), University of Alberta, Cindy Paszkowski (editor), University of Alberta.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Lowney, M. 1999. Damage by black and turkey vultures in Virginia, 1990-1996. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 27: 715-719.

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society: Encyclopedia of North America Birds. New York: The Audubon Society.