The American Black Vulture is one of the most common birds of prey in the Western Hemisphere. This scavenger is a valuable member of any habitat.
Essential to the Ecosystem
Scavengers and carrion birds may not be pretty, but they play an extremely important role in any ecosystem. Scavenger birds eat carrion, thereby eliminating carcasses that could become breeding grounds for infectious diseases. The American Black Vulture dines primarily on dead carcasses, although it may also eat garbage or even newborn animals or birds if the opportunity arises. However, its role in removing carrion makes it a vital member of its community, and has helped it earn protected status in the United States.
An Intimidating Presence
Like other vultures, the American Black Vulture is a large bird. With a wingspan around five feet, this bird is small for the vulture family but large compared to its other avian cousins. The Black Vulture is awkward on the ground, because its weak feet make it hop rather than walk. These vultures are covered in black feathers, except on their heads, which are bald and composed of wrinkly grey or black skin. One unique characteristic of these vultures is that they lack the vocal range of other birds, and voice only hisses and grunts.
Unlike some other vultures, the American Black Vulture likes to be part of a group. These birds roost together in bare trees, and often dine together on a carcass or other food source. In some cases, these group-oriented birds drive off their Turkey Vulture cousins, who forage alone. Black vultures do roost with turkey vultures in many areas; the rift is only at dinner time.
Because of this group mentality, American Black vultures do pose a threat for aerial navigation. These birds can become a problem when they roost or feed near airports; their large size makes it possible for them to smash through airplane windows or destroy engines. American Black Vultures are also bad news for farmers, as they have been known to feed on newborn cattle.
Black Vulture Lifestyle
American Black vultures have an average lifespan of about five years. Unlike many other birds, these vultures don't build nests. When the time comes to lay eggs, they lay one to three eggs directly on the ground, or occasionally on buildings. The eggs incubate for approximately a month, and the parents raise the young for another two months. Parents feed the young through regurgitation while they're in the nest.
Breeding season for American Black vultures varies, depending on location. In warmer climates, the vultures may breed as early as January; in colder climates, they may wait until March or April to lay eggs.
Ever wonder, "what does a Turkey Vulture eat?" or "where does a Turkey Vulture live?" They may not look like much when you see them up close, but on the wing they're one of the most beautiful and graceful sights you'll see.
Can you spot birds of prey while you're out bird watching? Looking for some characteristic physical features and behaviors will make it easy to spot these facsinating birds.