American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
(aka Black Vulture)
Black Vulture, Parati, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2002 - click for larger image Brazil

The American Black Vulture is common from the southern USA, through Central America and throughout most of South America except the extreme south and parts of the Andes.

Strongly associated with human activity, it is found around cities, towns and other habitations where it feeds on refuse. Elsewhere it is found along rivers and in open country but it is not normally found in undisturbed forest.

Black Vulture, Parati, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2002 - click for larger image A large bird, it can weigh up to about 2 kilos and has a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres. It is a dull black with a bare, grey head with folds of skin and a warty look.

In flight, it soars on flat wings with the "fingers" usually spread out. There are white patches on the underside of the wings. Unlike other vultures in South America, it flaps frequently when flying.

The bare head is an adaptation to its life as a scavenger and it will feed off any size of animal carcass as well as dead fish, etc..

Black Vulture, Guajará-Mirim, Rondônia, Brazil, March 2003 - click for larger image With excellent vision but no sense of smell, it relies on the Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura to find carcasses in forested habitats but it is dominant over Turkey Vultures when feeding especially since the American Black Vulture usually congregates in large groups.

Apart from carrion, American Black Vultures also feed on eggs, young birds, fish and insects.

Juvenile Black Vulture, Isla de Marajó, Pará, Brazil, November 2005 - click for larger image One of its more interesting, if not most salubrious, habits is that of defecating on its legs in order to cool down. This process is known as "urohydrosis".

This 4th photo shows a bird with much more feathering on the neck than normal. I assume that it is a juvenile though I must say I haven't noticed this phenomenon before. It reminded me of a photo sent to me a couple of years ago by Roberto Chavarro of an American Black Vulture he had seen in Colombia with an extraordinary amount of feathering which I show below.

Juvenile Black Vulture, Colombia, Photo copyright Roberto Chavarro - click for larger image There are illustrations in HBW, Volume 2, Pages 33, 36 and 38; Hilty & Brown, Plate I; and Sick, Plate 6.
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