Hey guys, welcome back. I have never lived in, or birded in the range of today’s bird, yet I’ve seen a number of them. What gives? The black vulture is the slightly smaller cousin to the turkey vulture and is historically found in the southern half of the US. However, due partly to climate change, their range is gradually working itself further and further north. For example, the nothern end of their range is a bit south of NYC, yet there are often black vultures seen along the Hudson river in the city itself. That’s where I saw my first ones, flying over the Hudson, near the George Washington Bridge. A couple typically show up in Cleveland every year, and I saw one while driving back from NYC in Pennsylvania. Despite this, and despite the fact that they are outnumbered by turkey vultures in the US, they are still the most numerous vultures in the western hemisphere.
Black vultures are black (go figure). They still have a featherless head, but the skin is black instead of red as on the turkey vulture. Their flight pattern is a bit different as well; not as teetering. From underneath, the birds look all black, but have light gray “fingertips.” Physical appearance isn’t the only thing that separates black from the turkey vultures. Black vultures don’t have the excellent sense of smell that turkey vulture do, so to find carcasses, they will often soar high and watch the lower soaring turkey vultures and follow them to the carrion. Black vultures will also actively hunt and kill prey on occasion whereas turkey vultures almost never hunt live prey. Either way, the black vulture is a cool scavenger, and apt for a day where (at least here in the US) we’re all scavenging Thanksgiving leftovers. Next up, a member of the heron family. See you then!