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All : Rabengeier
Esp : Zopilote Negro
Ital : Urubù
Nd : Zwarte Gier
Sd : Korpgam
Port :Urubu-de-cabeça-preta

Photographers :  

Marc Chrétien

Alfredo Colón
Puerto Rico Wildlife

Maxime Dechelle

Jean Michel Fenerole
Photos d’Oiseaux

Tom Grey
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures

Patrick Ingremeau

Eduardo Andrés Jordan

Tom Merigan
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries

Philippe et Aline Wolfer

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :    

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 2 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334156

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Hawk Mountain

The Peregrine Fund – World Centre for Birds of Prey

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)


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Summary cards

Black Vulture
Coragyps atratus

Accipitriforme Order – Cathartidae Family

Length: 56-68 cm
Wingspan: 137-150 cm
Weight: 1100-1900 g

The Black Vulture is a New World species. Among all the members of the family Cathartidae, this one has the most varied diet. In addition to be a scavenger, it also kills living preys and feeds on plant matter. 

Adult has dull black plumage with weak gloss on wings and tail. On the wings, the primary feathers form a conspicuous greyish-white patch, well visible in flight. The tail is short and square-tipped.

Head and neck are bare, and the dark grey skin shows numerous folds and warty aspect. Eyes are brown. The bill is grey with grey cere and whitish hooked tip. Legs and feet are greyish.

Both adults are similar.
Juvenile has less skin folding on the head, and some downy feathers.

Juvenile with less folding and downy head

We find three subspecies, atratus, brasiliensis and foetens. They differ in size and in extent of whitish wing-patch.

The Black Vulture, as other Cathartid vultures, lacks the syrinx and associated muscles, making these raptors almost silent. However, they produce a strange variety of noises such as hisses, rattle and sneeze, but not very loud. They are noisier during the breeding season, producing warning wheezes and snorts if an intruder approaches.

The Black Vulture often occurs in open or partially wooded areas, and usually close to human activities, around cities where it takes advantage of garbage dumps and fish docks.
They frequent lowland habitats along the streams in open areas, and are rarely found in dense forest.

The Black Vulture ranges from southern and south-east United States to central Patagonia.

The Black Vulture often forages in family groups. This vulture is primarily a scavenger but it also takes insects, bird’s eggs and fish. It can kill or injure new-born or sick mammals and birds. Near cities, it often frequents garbage dumps.

It is dominant over the Cathartid species, and around the carcasses, it takes mainly muscles and viscera, thanks to its large gape. When feeding, it becomes aggressive and may displace other raptors.

The Black Vulture is known to prey on cattle, mainly new-born calves and lambs. Several vultures harass the young animal, pecking at eyes, nose and tongue, before to kill it when it is completely worn out.
They find food by soaring and observing from a distance, and drop down when other vultures are seen around a carcass. They gather around large dead mammals, but they also can find small dead animals, as well as to catch less active living preys.

The Black Vulture performs aerial courtship displays involving circling flight and chasing in the air, and then spiralling down. The pair-bonds are for the life, and pairs may display together on a perch, spreading their wings and jumping up into the air while they utter some yapping noises.

The Black Vultures roost in large numbers at communal roosts. The members of a family group, parents and young, usually remain together all the year and perform social behaviour such as preening, feeding together and defend themselves against any attack. They may tend to associate with other families, assisting each other when foraging or to find food.
This species is known to have a complex social behaviour compared with other New World vultures.

The Black Vulture has well developed sunning behaviour. These raptors are often seen with wings stretched out, perched on exposed pole in the early morning, but also throughout the day. This is probably an adaptation to save the energy lost during the night, and maintain the flight feathers in good conditions, making them supple after the flight thanks to the warmth.

The Black Vulture is resident in its range, even if some local and seasonal movements are observed.

The Black Vulture soars on flat wings, but it frequently flaps. It has powerful flight performed with short bursts of rapid and shallow wing beats interspersed with glides.

Breeding season varies according to the range.
The Black Vulture does not build nest. It breeds in natural cavities such as caves, rock crevices, tree and log hollows. They observe the site for long period, (4-6 weeks) before the egg-laying, in order to determine if the place is secure.

Female lays 2 eggs and both parents incubate during 38 to 45 days, taking turns each day. The chicks are fed by both adults by regurgitation of liquefied food, up to 20 times a day. At two weeks of age, they receive solid food.
They fledge 10 to 14 weeks after hatching, but they still depend on parents for long time, up to 8 months.
Then, they forage in family group until the next breeding season.

The Black Vulture is primarily a scavenger feeding at carcasses of large animals, but they also take small dead mammals. They may kill new-born lambs and calves, and sick or injured mammals or birds.

According to the range, they also consume hatching sea-turtles, live fish, insects and small reptiles, eggs and nestlings of other bird species, and frequent garbage dumps.
This species also feeds on plant matter such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins and coconuts when available.

The Black Vultures seem to have stable and healthy populations. They benefit from human activities which provide them abundant food sources. Numbers increased in the last four centuries in Central and South America.
This species is common and widespread in the wide range.