Coragyps atratus Order: Accipitriformes Family: Cathartidae
With regard to their availability and suitability as ambassador animals:
- Black vultures can be acquired from rehab and rescue centers, typically orphaned, imprinted individuals as they are challenging to rehab without imprinting.
- With good training, this species can be reliable in both flighted and non-flighted situations.
- With good desensitization, these birds are good around large crowds of people. They are also calm in large auditoriums, classrooms, and conference areas.
- Due to their natural history and social dynamics, vultures can be more disposed to lunging and biting if they feel threatened, they are not “easy” birds to manage and require experienced handlers.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Southern and Eastern US, most of Central and South America. Black Vultures are resident in tropical and warm temperate from southern Canada to southern South America including continental United States of America. In the northern parts of their range they have a southward migration in the fall and a returning spring migration. Prefers prefers an open habitat and avoids dense forests as much as possible. Such habitats include lowlands with adjacent highlands, open fields, desert terrain, garbage dumps, and urban or rural centers.
Lifespan in the wild is up to 25 years; in human care, they can live longer.
Like all vultures, black vultures play an important role as scavengers. By consuming carcasses of deceased animals, they prevent the spread of disease. Their digestive system effectively neutralizes pathogens such as (but not limited to) cholera, botulism, rabies, polio, and anthrax.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Vultures enjoy roosting in perches with a view, and are social species that take to cohabitation with conspecifics.
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Black vultures are endemic to warmer climates, as such they require a heat source in locations where temperatures drop below freezing.
- This species can be successfully managed on a variety of substrates, such as pea-gravel, sand, dirt, grass.
Social Housing/Colony Management
- Black vultures are a gregarious species and do well (better) when housed with conspecifics rather than alone. When housing birds in groups attention should be paid to individual preference and birds should be afforded enclosure space large enough to be separate from each other, should they choose.
Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Multiple perching options are necessary to maintain good foot health.
- Space should meet minimum USFW standards.
- Enclosure be constructed with materials that reduce the possibility of damage to the feathers or to the bird itself (for example, bare wire mesh is less desirable than vertical bars or coated mesh).
- Flight-capable individuals need flight exercise to maintain muscle mass.
- A double door mew entrance is ideal for any flighted bird. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure safely and without incident.
Diet in the Wild
- These birds are scavengers, they are opportunistic but feed predominantly on the carcasses of small to medium-sized mammals and birds.
Diet under human care
- Under human care black vultures do well on a varied diet, including such items as mice, rats, rabbit, chicks, quail, fish, beef heart and liver, commercial bird of prey diet.
- Dietary amounts will vary by individual. Larger and more active individuals requiring higher caloric intake than smaller or inactive individuals. Diet amounts required will also vary seasonally. Understanding the individual requirements of your bird for optimal weight and health should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Provision of whole prey on occasion is valuable for both enrichment and beak maintenance.
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- Vultures can be playful. They also appear to gain some intrinsic satisfaction from the act of ripping and tearing.
- Changing perches within their habitat.
- Addition of browse.
- Puzzle feeders work well as do any objects they can tug or carry such as browse. They will ingest random objects so use care when choosing enrichment items.
- Daily enrichment is recommended.
Other Enrichment Resources
- AZA’s Raptor TAG has a comprehensive list of raptor-appropriate enrichment as well as other suggestions on raptor enrichment programs on their website.
- Voluntary step-up to glove
- Voluntary loading into crate
- Voluntary scale
- A-B flights
- Walking with trainers
- Calm behavior on glove
Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- This species takes well to positive reinforcement training using its daily diet to reinforce behavior.
- Using food and/or weight management as part of a good behavioral management program facilitates training by creating a learning environment in which vultures want to participate. Training strategies that involve reducing food offered to the point of compromising the health of the bird are considered unacceptable. Food management and weight management practices that are safe for the bird and trainers, provide for the health and welfare of the bird, and facilitate training are recommended.
- Food and or weight management should be done with an understanding of the process and considerations. The decision to use weight management should not be taken lightly nor undertaken at all by staff who do not have a comprehensive understanding of managing weight and diet.
Colony or Breeding Management
Threats and Conservation Status
- While black vulture populations remain stable throughout their range, vultures in general are the most imperiled group of birds on the planet with more than 70% of species threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.
- While the digestive system of vultures is highly resistant to bacteria and viruses, they are extremely susceptible to poisons and toxins. One of the leading killers of vultures is accidental or intentional poisoning. Sharing information aimed to reduce toxins in their environment (such as switching from lead ammunition and not using rodent bait) are valuable ways to help wild vultures.
- Prejudices against black vultures still persist among many who wrongly believe that they harm wildlife or present major threats to domestic animals. Biological studies have documented their ecological importance as major controls on the spread of disease. Although many claim black vultures prey on newborn livestock, there is (to date) no tangible, verifiable evidence of this.
Interesting Natural History Information
Did you know…
- Vultures’ stomach acid is between 0-1 pH. Humans are between 1-2.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- This species may be presented on glove, on perch, or in free-flight demonstrations. Due to their activity budget and the fact that their feet pose no safety risk to handlers (or other animals) like those of raptors traditionally managed with falconry equipment (hawks, eagles, falcons, owls), the use of falconry equipment is neither recommended nor necessary when handling black vultures. Their natural behavior does not lend to tethering.
Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Public contact with this species is not advisable.
- Touching is not advisable.
- Transport box suggestions: Varikennel.
- A couple things to keep in mind, crates should not be carried by the handle, but rather using two hands on either side of the crate and supporting it adequately. Swinging transport crates around and or moving them on a bumpy cart may create negative association for the bird, due to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.
- This species can be trained to voluntarily enter a crate either from the glove or directly from their enclosure. Continuous reinforcement of voluntary crate behaviors as well as dedication to their comfort and safety while in the crate is important to maintaining solid and reliable crate behavior.
- Being natural inhabitants of warmer climates, care should be taken when temperatures drop below freezing. When transporting and using on programs, attention should be paid to the comfort of the individual and any signs of heat distress responded to accordingly.
- Black vultures are frequently available through rehabilitation organizations
- Raptor TAG https://www.raptortag.com/
- IAATE Position Statements https://iaate.org/position-statement/position-statements
- Food Management and Weight Management 2019
- Tethering and the Use of Jesses 2019
- EAZA Falconiformes TAG:Husbandry and Management Guidelines for Demonstration Birds
Contributors and Citations
- Tracy Aviary
Comments from the Rating System
Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species