Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus

Don’t tell these buzzards to buzz off! 

Vultures are sometimes called buzzards, though the word is meant for hawks. Whatever you call them, vultures have a bad reputation. Many people view them as ugly, dirty, lazy, or as a sign of bad luck or doom, but the truth is black vultures are intelligent and social birds who care for their families.

Circling the sky for a free ride.

A common myth is that vultures fly in circles over dying animals. Their circling is actually a low-energy way of flying! Hot air currents rise from low to high altitudes, and vultures use these currents to lift them higher by riding them upward in circles. It’s an easy way to get high up without having to waste energy flapping.

Keep calm and carrion.

Black vultures and their relatives perform a very important service to the ecosystem: they are decomposers. Decomposers eat rotting plants or dead animals, called carrion. This process of eating, digesting, and returning dead things to the soil is an important part of energy flow in an ecosystem. You might know it by a more poetic name: the circle of life.


Animal Facts

  • Range Black vultures live in tropical and temperate zones from southern Canada, the US, and throughout Central and South America.
  • Habitat They prefer open habitats such as lowlands, desert, open fields, rubbish dumps, and rural or urban centers.
  • Diet They are carnivores and mainly scavengers, eating the carcasses of dead animals. At the Zoo they eat a Bird of Prey diet, mice, chicken, and quail.
  • Size They range between 1.8 - 2.4 feet in length, and weigh between 2.6 - 4.3 pounds. Their wingspan can be up to 5.5 feet from tip to tip.
  • Location in Zoo Winged Wonders Bird Show
  • Conservation Status Black vultures are a "Species of Least Concern". There are millions of these birds in the wild.

Did You Know?

Black vultures lack the organ that allows birds to make noise, called a syrinx. Because of this, they can only grunt and hiss.