Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
Common Name(s): Black Vulture, Mexican Vulture, Zopilotes, Gallinazo
Black vultures are in the family Accipitridae which includes eagles, hawks, kits, and harriers. Black vultures have black plumage, featherless black head and neck, and a short, hooked beak. They have broad wings, a short tail, and neat white stars under their wing tips. With a wingspan of around 5 feet, they are relatively small compared to other vulture species. When in flight, they splay out their wing tips almost like fingers. Turkey vultures can be distinguished from Black vultures by their red head and larger size.
Black vulture range includes the south and east coast of North America through Mexico and down to the entirety of South America. However, with increased temperatures, black vulture range has extended into some areas north of their highlighted range such as parts of Kansas, Indiana, and as far north as Maine. Although it is a very common species, its range is more restricted than the Turkey vulture which will live as far north as Southern Canada.
Black vultures are social and live in small flocks where they share food with one another. They nest in caves, hollow trees, or bare ground and produce 2 young per year. The young are well taken care of, and parents feed them months after they fledge. Interestingly, black vultures do not have the vocal organ in birds, called the syrinx, so they communicate in grunts or low hisses.
They are known to eat carrion (dead animals) and eggs. They offer ecological assistance in removing dead animals which might otherwise carry diseases that are a concern for human health. In areas with catastrophic declines in vulture populations, there are increases in populations of coyotes, rats, and feral dogs as well as increases in diseases such as rabies, brucellosis, and anthrax.
Black vultures have keen eyesight, but poor smell compared to turkey vultures. They soar high above the tree line and watch turkey vultures very closely. When they see a turkey vulture dive toward something they follow close behind. The turkey vulture is larger so will win out against a single Black vulture. However, a group of black vultures will easily scare away the turkey vulture, which does not live socially with other birds. Despite their importance in ecological waste disposal, they can become a nuisance species. In large numbers, they can become a menace for property owners, ripping up shingles, boat and car seat stuffing, pulling out window linings in cars, and defecating on property. It is likely that they are using this material for nesting, but there may be other reasons for this behavior.
Unlike other vultures, some people believe black vultures to be predatory. Farmers have given accounts of black vultures predating on newly born calves, calves in the process of being born, or estranged weak cows, in a herd. There is no empirical evidence that backs up these anecdotal observations and scientists believe that they do not kill the animals. Instead, some scientists hypothesize that the farm animals were in the process of dying when they were ultimately taken by the vultures. Increasing temperatures have led to an expanded range of black vultures into Indiana and some northern states where a lot of these predatory behaviors are observed. In 2021, scientists at Purdue University began researching this phenomenon to better understand if black vultures possess true predatory behavior:
Here in Bella Vista, black vultures roost behind Allen’s Grocery and by Lake Bella Vista. They can also be seen nesting on the rock bluff at Lake Ann. They may be seen in large flocks congregating around the various lake parks, like Ann Park and Tyree Park.