Black Vulture

I managed to get several pictures of a black vulture on a trip several years ago to Arkansas. We had decided to take a trip to Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas, and on one of my evening walks I noticed this raptor sitting on a dead branch above the river/creek.

Black vulture seen in Devil’s Den State Park

I will admit that these weren’t the best pictures in the world–just a different camera that doesn’t have the greatest zoom distance/lens.

Black vultures are as their name implies–black in coloring, though they do have a few white patches on the underside of their wingtips. These white patches can be difficult to see at times depending on how far from them you are (and the strength of the lens of either the binoculars or camera). Since they also have a bare head–the skin is also black.

Unlike the turkey vulture, the black vulture has a more limited range within the United States.

Black Vulture Range Map. Map (c) birds of the world

They are mainly spotted within the southeastern part of the country, a small section of Oklahoma and Arizona, a good chunk of Texas, and then southward through Mexico and into Central and South America.

Since they don’t migrate–they’re year round residents and their territories have been slowly expanding northward. They’re at home in the forests and open areas of the southeastern parts of the US.

Black vulture at Devil’s Den State Park

While their diet also consists mainly of carrion–the size of the animal is different from that of the turkey vulture. Their diet consists of mainly medium-large mammals such as feral pigs, cattle, donkeys, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, skunks, and armadillos. They will also follow (and then run off) turkey vultures from carrion as well. They follow turkey vultures, because while they have a ‘good’ sense of smell–the turkey vulture’s sense of smell for dead things is better.

They are also ‘unique’ vultures due to the fact that they will occasionally kill other animals (creating the carrion). They’ve been know to kill skunks, opossums, night-herons, turtle hatchlings, and young livestock. In addition they can also be spotted at times around dumpsters and landfills.

Black vultures prefer dark cavities such as caves, hollow trees, abandoned buildings, brush piles, and thickets for nesting. Unlike turkey vultures who will make an ‘indention’ in the ground for the eggs–female black vultures lay their eggs directly on the ground (so there is actually no ‘nest building’ for these vultures).

Black vulture at Devil’s Den State Park

They are also semi-communal birds in terms of behavior. They have one mate, and the parents will feed their young for several months after the youngsters have fledged. If one (or more) are unsuccessful at foraging on their own, they can locate food by following related roost mates to carcasses. But it has to be related roost mates–if they try to follow a group that they are unrelated too–the other vultures will chase them off.

There is actually a ‘feeding order’ at the carcasses if there are numerous different species present. The black vulture will feed after the crested caracara (in the US/Mexico), and after the king vulture and Andean condors (further south).

My photography goals for the black vulture include: getting a good close-up of a black vulture roosting on a branch, getting a picture of one (or a group) soaring through the sky, and possibly getting a picture of a mixed group of raptors feeding.