Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
A Black Vulture specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Sharing much of its range with the larger Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), the Black Vulture (23-27 inches) is most easily separated from the former by its featherless black head, short tail, and distinctive white “wrist” patches visible on the wings from below. Other field marks include a black body, black legs, and long wings. Male and female Black Vultures are similar to one another in all seasons. The Black Vulture inhabits much of the southeastern United States north to Pennsylvania and west to central Texas, with an isolated population in southern Arizona. This species also occurs from Mexico south to southern South America. Although Black Vultures are generally non-migratory, some birds move south from northern portions of this species’ range during harsh winters. Black Vultures typically breed and roost in dense woodland while feeding in more open habitats, such as grasslands, meadows, and fields. In some areas, Black Vultures also utilize man-made structures, such as abandoned buildings and utility poles. This species feeds almost exclusively on carrion, rarely killing prey itself. Due to this species’ need to scavenge for food, Black Vultures are most easily observed soaring high above the ground in search of carrion. Scientists have discovered that this species lacks the sophisticated sense of smell possessed by the Turkey Vulture, and that Black Vultures often wait for Turkey Vultures to find food before driving them off and taking the carcass for themselves. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common permanent resident in the southern part of this region and at the National Zoological Park. Nests mid-March to July in hollow trees and on ledges in agricultural regions and surrounding habitats. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48345 Coragyps atratus (Black Vulture)