September 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

Portrait of a Black Vulture © J. R. Williams
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

The Black Vulture, a predator designed for eating carrion, is invaluable in cleaning up animal carcasses killed by our vehicles, windows, cell towers, and wind turbines.  Note this handsome portrait photograph by JR Williams’ Canon 50D with an EF 100-400mm lens.  The bare head allows clean retrieval of innards without dirtying feathers that would draw insects or interfere with aerodynamics.  Notice the ear hole, visible without feathers covering.

Vulture eyesight is keen, detecting carrion from great heights.  By day, covering the sky, they watch each other so when one begins to descend towards a carcass, others follow to feed together.  Vultures, roost communally at night and communicate so those who had not fed, follow the feeders to the carcass the next day.

The parents are monogamous, mating for life. DNA-fingerprinting indicates no evidence of extra-pair paternity.  The pair grooms, travels, and feeds together, and always roosts with other vultures. A bare tree beside our house is a favorite resting place.  Almost daily, I can hear their lunch ritual signaled by the loud hissing/gasping sound of the young vulture flapping its wings, begging just like a baby cardinal.  The parents feed the juvenile for 8 months…even though it reaches adult size at one month. I only recognize the juvenile by observing its head disappearing down the throat of the adult to retrieve tasty regurgitated morsels.  This feeding dependency evidently leads to strong social ties with the extended family group.  Once independent of the parents, juveniles do not breed for up to 8 years.

Be warned when visiting the parking lots in the Everglades (especially Anhinga Trail).  Black Vultures have acquired a taste for attacking rubber seals on car windows, doors, sunroofs, and windshield wipers.  Park officials provide tarps and bungee cords to protect your vehicle against this acquired taste.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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