Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey vultures are large scavenging birds widely distributed throughout North America. Like other vultures, they have a highly sensitive sense of smell and a baldhead. The baldhead of a turkey vulture is red and resembles a wild turkey – hence the name, turkey vulture.
Black vultures are large scavenging birds also widely distributed throughout the southern United States. They will often be found in large groups with turkey vultures. Unlike turkey vultures, they do not have a keen sense of smell and locate their prey visually. Occasionally, they will follow turkey vultures to a fresh kill, capitalizing on the turkey vultures’ ability to smell a fresh carcass from a long distance. Black vultures are slightly smaller than turkey vultures and their heads are a wrinkled leathery looking grey.
Vultures do not suffer from botulism or other illnesses caused by the bacteria in rancid meat because their nervous system and immune systems are specially adapted for their particularly gruesome diet; however, the pathogens found in their droppings may present a health hazard to humans and other animals. Vulture droppings are also unsightly and smell unpleasant. They may be loaded with fungus and parasites that carry histoplasmosis, encephalitis, salmonella, meningitis and other diseases. Where only a few turkey vultures roost, this is unlikely to pose a threat; however, where they flock in large numbers, it can become a problem – especially if the flock locates itself in close proximity to a public water or food source.
Vultures usually hunt individually during the day, but in the evening they will roost in large groups of 100 or more. Typically, they will choose the branches of bare trees for a roosting location. Their diet is entirely made up of carrion except in rare and extreme conditions. Black vultures, in areas where drought or desertification have removed their normal source of food, have been known to take small live prey. The occurrence is extremely rare, and in general, they serve the public by ridding our neighborhoods of road kill and smelly carcasses.
All vultures are migratory and are therefore protected by federal law. In instances where vultures have become a nuisance to the public, non-lethal scare tactics should be employed to encourage an unwanted flock to relocate. If non-lethal control measures are unsuccessful, contact the Wildlife Services Office of APHIS to request a depredation permit.