The Black Vulture is an abundant bird all throughout the Southeastern United States and has expanded it’s range northward into the northeast over recent years. The cause is not fully known but habitat loss for nesting could be one possible reason. It is typically found in flat lowlands, such as coastal plains, foraging in open country yet roosting and nesting in forests.
A close cousin of the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture sports a black or dark gray featherless “bald” head whereas the Turkey Vulture has a distinctive red featherless “bald” head. This identifier can be seen from far away. Much less obvious is the fact that the Black Vulture has shorter wings and a shorter tail than the Turkey Vulture but another standout trait is that the Black Vulture has silvery patches on the underside of the wing tips, whereas the Turkey Vulture does not. Both large birds of prey exhibit the “fingers” at the ends of their wings in flight.
As vultures do, they seek carrion by soaring over open or partially wooded areas watching the ground and keying in on the behaviors of animals below. To aid in the hunt, the Black Vulture has a well-developed sense of smell, unlike most birds. Large – sized carrion can attract many birds, as can many small animals such as fish along our coastal shorelines. Although not very keen on flying over water to travel to barrier islands, the Black Vulture will join the more common island resident, the Turkey Vulture, to serve as beach combers during periods of red tide or following natural storm events that may result in dead fish along our shores. In addition to the norm, Vultures will feed on decaying plants, live insects, eggs and the occasional new born animal if easily overtaken.
Black Vultures do not build a typical nest, rather lay their eggs on the ground in a wooded area, a hollow log or another cavity. Due to the size and aggressiveness of the bird, predation is not typically a concern as they can fend off fox, raccoons and other mammals that may be interested in their eggs as a meal.
On any given day, the site of the soaring ( flapping it’s wings very seldom ) of a Turkey Vulture on the islands is common but Black Vultures are much less common and I’ve never seen them on the course until early May, 2019. This pair wasn’t shy and they were there for a drink of our “fresh” water from a course lake on the 17th hole. With very little fresh water sites at the north end of the island, thirsty birds stop often. The vulture may not be an exciting bird but is certainly a critical part of our ecosystem and admired by many for it’s specialization that has evolved over many many years.