Black Vulture

Black Vulture

American black vulture, Mexican vulture, Zopilote, Gallinazo

Coragyps atratus
Population size
20 Mlnlnn
Life Span
10-25.6 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
m ft 

The Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is amongst the most abundant vultures of the New World, and out of all the members in the Cathartidae family, has the most varied diet. These are highly social birds that demonstrate fierce family loyalty. They will share food with their relatives and feed their young for months after fledging. Their lifespan is 10 years on average, and the longest-banded individual has lived up to 25.6 years.


The Black vulture is a fairly large scavenger. Its plumage is mainly glossy black. The head and neck are featherless and the skin is dark gray and wrinkled. The iris of the eye is brown and has a single incomplete row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower lid. The legs are grayish-white, while the two front toes of the foot are long and have small webs at their bases. The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but rather are perforate; from the side, one can see through the beak. The wings are broad but relatively short. The bases of the primary feathers are white, producing a white patch on the underside of the wing's edge, which is visible in flight. The tail is short and square, barely reaching past the edge of the folded wings.




Black vultures live in tropical and temperate zones from southern Canada to the south of South America, including continental parts of the U.S. In the north of their range, they migrate south in the fall, returning in spring. They prefer open land interspersed with areas of woods or brush. They are also found in moist lowland forests, shrublands and grasslands, wetlands and swamps, pastures, and heavily degraded former forests. Black vultures rarely occur in mountainous areas and are often seen in pastures, suburban and urban areas soaring or perched on fence posts or dead trees.

Black Vulture habitat map

Climate zones

Black Vulture habitat map
Black Vulture
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Habits and Lifestyle

Black vultures soar high while searching for food, holding their wings horizontally when gliding. They flap in short bursts which are followed by short periods of gliding. They are generally silent but can make hisses and grunts when agitated or while feeding. Black vultures are gregarious and roost in large groups. In areas where their ranges overlap, Black vultures will roost on the bare branches of dead trees alongside groups of Turkey vultures. Black vultures generally forage in groups late in the day; they locate food either by sight or by following other vultures to carcasses. Their heightened ability to detect odors allows them to search for carrion below the forest canopy. Black vultures are aggressive when feeding, and may even chase the slightly larger Turkey vultures from carcasses. Usually, vultures are silent, though they may hiss, grunt, and make low barking sounds while fighting over food. When startled, Black vultures will regurgitate just-eaten food so that they can take off to fly.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Black vultures are carnivores and mainly scavengers, eating the carcasses of large animals, and sometimes small dead mammals. They also kill baby herons in nesting colonies and eat domestic ducks, newborn calves, small birds and mammals, eggs, opossums, skunks, ripe or rotten vegetables or fruit, and young turtles.

Mating Habits

southern range: starts in January, northern range: March-June
38-45 days
8 months
2 eggs

Black vultures are monogamous and pairs mate for life. They engage in aerial courtship displays with circling flight, chasing, and then spiraling down. A pair may also display while together on a perch: they spread their wings and jump into the air while making yapping noises. In the southern part of their range breeding may begin as early as January, while breeding in the north is from March to June. A black vulture does not build a nest but uses a natural cavity such as a cave, rock crevice, tree, or hollow log. 2 eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents for 38 to 45 days, each taking a turn every day. Both parents feed the chicks by regurgitating liquefied food until when they are two weeks old, they give them solid food. The chicks fledge when they are 10 to 14 weeks old and depend on their parents for up to 8 months. They then forage in a family group until the following breeding season.


Population threats

The main threats to this species include: collision with buildings and vehicles, electrocution, poisoning meant for vermin, illegal shooting, leg traps, and lead poisoning from ingesting pellets and bullet fragments in the carcasses of game animals that are not retrieved by hunters.

Population number

The All About Birds resource records the total Black vulture breeding population as being about 20 million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

Black vultures play an important role in the environment as ecological sentinels. In addition to removing dead animals, vultures recycle nutrients that are used by plants.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • "Vulture" comes from the Latin “vulturus”, meaning "tearer," a reference to the way this bird eats.
  • This species’ Latin name ‘Coragyps atratus’ translates roughly into "raven-vulture clothed in black as in mourning", which refers to the color of its feathers.
  • Black vulture chicks are fed by their parents up to 20 times a day.
  • Black vultures lack a syrinx, which is a bird’s vocal organ, so can only make grunts and low hisses.
  • Sometimes vultures are called “buzzards,” but this word usually refers to hawks or Old World buteos.
  • At night, Black vultures often roost in the same tree, and sometimes these communal roosts contain hundreds of birds.
  • Black vultures conserve energy during the night by reducing their body temperature. When morning comes, they warm up by spreading their wings in the sun.
  • The nostrils of a Black vulture do not have a septum to divide them, but instead are perforate; you can see through their beak from the side.
  • Black vultures are often seen standing with their wings spread. This stance is thought to serve several functions: warming the body, drying the wings, and baking off bacteria.

Coloring Pages


1. Black Vulture Wikipedia article -
2. Black Vulture on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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