Friday, September 3, 2010

Black Vultures, the cleanup crew

You know you’re a nature nerd when you find yourself stopping to take photos of vultures hanging out near a fast-food dumpster!

I don't remember this scavenger when I lived in the northern Midwest, but they seem to be abundant in the South – I see them as or more often than the more familiar turkey vultures. My bird books show a range for black vultures extending into South America, and as far north in the United States as Missouri, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

Without vultures to clean up dead and decomposing matter, our world would be rampant with disease-causing bacteria (not to mention how untidy and smelly it would become). Although some view vultures as harbingers of death, symbols of filth, or ominous omens – they have an indispensable job in our natural system.

Wikipedia has a nice entry about black vultures, and Saturday, 9-04-10 is International Vulture Awareness Day. Consider this event to be a reminder to learn a little more about these thankless janitors, and to appreciate their role in the circle of life and death on earth.

The more I read about vultures, the more impressed I am by their unique adaptations and value to mankind. Tidbits I found interesting:

• The common name of vulture comes from the Latin word vulturus meaning “tearer.”
• The genus name Cathartidae means “purifier.”
• The scientific name (Coragyps atratus) means “raven-vulture” and “clothed in black.”
• Care must be taken with vulture chicks because they imprint readily with humans.
• Black vultures may choose to migrate or to stay.
• They tend to be social birds.
• Like turkey vultures, they do not sing or call, but hiss and grunt.
• Black vultures are New World Vultures. Current dispute on vulture classification going on!
• They are monogamous.
• Vultures use the sun to bake and kill bacteria from their heads, beaks, and feathers.

You can click on the image above to view it larger on my Flickr photostream.

Parents and teachers:
You can click here to download a PDF coloring page of an ink drawing of the center bird.


  1. I love your PDF! What a cool do you embed a PDF, Elizabeth? I've wanted to offer freebies on my blog too...

  2. That was a very intersting post, Elizabeth. I often see these vultures in our area (central Florida), taking care of roadkill. These guys perform a necessary, though unromantic, task.

  3. Hi Kate and thank you! There may be different ways to do this, but here is what I did...

    First I created a PDF and uploaded it to the web so it had a place to reside (I uploaded it via FTP to my lizardart website).

    Then I created a link in blogger editing mode and pointed it to that web address (URL). In other words, once your PDF has a home on the web, you can treat it like any other link.

    Hope that helps!

  4. Thank you Kathy! I see these a lot more often than turkey vultures, too. I agree that their job is QUITE unromantic!

  5. What a great post and wonderful sketch, Elizabeth. Very interesting facts too...thanks for sharing them with us. A lot of people don't like crows because they are scavengers here but, like vultures, crows play a vital part in the environment. Thanks for the PDF...I'll print off a copy for my son to colour.

  6. Hi Serena, and thank you! I am still a bit new to this, so let me know if you have any trouble downloading the PDF or have any comments to make!

  7. What a wonderful post, Elizabeth! I've only seen Turkey vultures here so it was fun to see your beautiful painting of this different vulture and I greatly enjoyed reading the results of all of your research.

    I once heard a naturalist (I don't remember who) say that if he could choose to be reincarnated he would want to be a vulture because they don't hurt any living creatures and do the very important cleanup work that you've talked about.

  8. Hi Debbie and thanks! What an interesting perspective from that naturalist; the more I've read about vultures, the more fascinating they seem. They are truly specialists.

  9. Great post! I had no idea they are monogamous. Do they mate again if their mate is lost?

    BTW, love the idea of the pdf! Super cool idea!

  10. You have beautiful journals. Thanks for posting, Jacqueline

  11. The PDF file worked just fine, Elizabeth...thanks again ~

    Re. Debbie's comment - I have to say what a great perspective the Naturalist had re. vultures.

  12. Hi Elizabeth ... I too was working on a vulture post and found yours very interesting. I hadn't realized how different black vultures are from turkey vultures.

    I love your vulture art!

  13. Thank you Laure! I couldn't find any authoritative information on whether black vultures would seek another mate after losing one, but I did find that males help with egg incubation and feeding duties. They are good papas!

  14. And thanks so much, Jacqueline, for your visit and your kind comment!

  15. Thanks, Serena, for letting me know!

    Hi Elva, I haven't been able to spend much time online lately, but I look forward to seeing your turkey vultures!