Bird of the Week, October 31, 2013
Black Vulture

 

Black Vulture by Andrea Westmoreland

 

It’s Halloween, a time when spiritual connections are brought to the forefront. This mystical occasion is a great time to celebrate a species that has at times inspired spirituality—and at times been abhorred. Meet the common, but frequently unappreciated, Black Vulture.

 

In Egyptian mythology, the nurturing ways of vultures, in general, led the birds to be respected as sources for maternal inspiration. Priestesses, called mothers, wore robes made of vulture feathers. Early Egyptians believed that vultures would reveal the site of a future battle by appearing there seven days prior to bloodshed, while in other cultures the bird was believed to play a role in releasing the spirit of the deceased to the heavens.

 

In the early 20th century, ill-founded concerns arose about vultures spreading disease. The birds were killed by the thousands until the 1970s, when their role in the environment became better understood and accepted. Today, Black Vultures are mostly regarded as the beneficial scavengers that they are. (Read about another scavenger that is not faring so well: the California Condor.)

 

Black Vultures have limited vocal abilities; since they have no syrinx, the vocal organ of birds, they communicate through raspy hisses and grunts. They also lack a keen sense of smell, instead relying on birds that do—such as Turkey Vultures—to lead them to carrion, their main source of food.

 

Black Vultures are monogamous, staying with their mates for many years, all year round. They maintain strong social bonds with their families throughout their lives and will aggressively prevent non-relatives from joining them at roosts or following them to food sources.

 

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Range Map, NatureServe