Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are a native species to Kentucky, and in the last 10-20 years their population numbers have increased to the point where they are common across much of the state. Black vultures are present throughout the year in Kentucky. However, they are a migratory species ranging from South America to Canada which is why numbers tend to increase in Kentucky the fall and winter as northern birds move south. They are a medium sized vulture at 23 to 27 inches in height, with a wing spread upwards of 5 feet, and weigh around 3.5 to 5 lbs. They are slightly smaller than the turkey vulture, the other native vulture in Kentucky, and can be distinguished from them in several ways. 

  • Adult turkey vulture has a bright red head whereas the black vulture has a gray black head (Figure 1).
  • In flight black vultures hold their wings in a more horizontal position and tend to flap more compared to turkey vultures that have more of a v-shaped profile and soar for longer durations without flapping.   


Feeding Behavior

  • Vultures play a pivotal role in the ecosystem by feeding upon and thus cleaning up dead animal carcasses.
  • Black vultures are generally carrion feeders (dead animals), however they will kill small to medium sized animals on occasion.
  • Vultures in general will feed on the softest tissues first. Eyes, tongues, and hind quarters are typically missing from carrion that they have been feeding on.  


Roosting Behavior

Black vultures commonly roost in groups often comprised of both black vultures and turkey vultures, especially during the winter months. Group sizes can vary but they can get rather large, roost sizes upwards of a 100 individuals or more are not uncommon. These roosts play an important role for the species, acting as a communication center.

Figure 1. Black vulture on the left and a turkey vulture on the right. Notice the head color and slightly darker plumage on the black vulture.Figure 1. Black vulture on the left and a turkey vulture on the right. 

Notice the head color and slightly darker plumage on the black vulture.