Where did all these vultures come from??!!

96E562BB-D417-48A7-B83C-8580911680A8_1_201_aThis Black Vulture above, at Merritt Island NWR Nature Center, appeared to be drying off his feathers in the manner of Cormorants and Anhingas. Another visitor said he’d seen the bird emerge from the water just beforehand – a behavior I have never observed, though Black Vultures are very common here in Florida. CB59620C-5B67-4D33-97AC-F8C991F8C4E3_1_201_aBut the Vulture behavior that really puzzled us was what we later saw at nearby Orlando Wetlands. We were literally surrounded by hundreds of Black Vultures – they were simply EVERYWHERE!! In the trees, on the ground, underfoot . . . we were nearly tripping over them on the pathways!290964DD-1CBA-49EE-8CF3-4BAA2EF2C2AB_1_201_aThis handsome guy sat on the back of a bench (opening and closing his nictitating membrane from time to time), while everywhere we turned, more Vultures hopped right along with us on the trail.They continued to be present in great numbers throughout the duration of our 3+ hour hike. In the distant trees they perched in droves as if waiting for some big event. B77A06AF-B821-4BD6-BCFA-99DB1ECCD8EE_1_201_aBlack Vultures feed almost exclusively on carrion, locating it by soaring high in the skies on thermals.” (Find much more info on All About Birds, Black Vulture). The Wetlands provide the type of habitat they frequent, but we just didn’t see any potential food source that would attract so many on this lovely morning. We never saw any of the Vultures feeding on anything, and none were soaring in circles overhead as we often see in the vicinity of landfills.We asked some volunteers and later, some naturalist friends, and they all said that Vultures ‘just sometimes gather in groups’ like this.

Speaking of groups, note this fun fact from a site called African Conservation Experience:  “Vultures circling overhead, riding thermals as they search for carcasses are called a ‘kettle’. A group of vultures perched in a tree, meanwhile, are called a ‘committee’, a ‘venue’ or even a ‘volt’. Then, when the vultures descend to the ground to feed on a carcass they’re called a ‘wake’ which we think is beautifully descriptive.” ☺️

35 thoughts on “Where did all these vultures come from??!!

  1. Oh how I enjoyed hearing about your black vulture phenomenon, BJ. How strange to see so many of them, and without any noticeable carcasses to explain it. Great photo of the nictitating membrane, too, that is not an easy shot. I was in Merritt Is. NWR in 2019. We spent hours looking for a Florida scrubjay, but to no avail, but it was a pleasant wetland in your sunny state.

  2. I’ve seen Turkey Vultures warming themselves in the sun on cool mornings. Another possibility is it’s some form of parasite control. Some species splay their feathers out in the hot sun and some naturalists think that the behaviour is a method of parasite control.

  3. The Black Vultures are very abundant in Florida and great part of USA. We should be very grateful of them because they make a great contribution to Ecology. Great shots, Carol. 🙂

  4. That is fascinating behaviour, Carol, and I too would be really interested to know why they’d decide to congregate at that spot on that day when the obvious reasons like breeding or feeding is discounted.

  5. We get our share of Turkey Vultures around here but the only time I see them congregate as a group is when massing for migration or picking something apart on the ground. Some of the poses you captured remind me of cormorants. Thanks for sharing this story of Black Vulture natural history. So interesting the various names their groupings have, Carol.

    • The vulture behavior you describe is commonly what we see here, too, in addition to soaring in circles over a landfill or a tasty-looking carcass. Turkey Vultures are also abundant here. Interestingly, Cornell Lab’s All about Birds says: “the Black Vulture makes up for its poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses.”

  6. They are not a routine site, however, when seen, they are abundant!
    And do exactly what they are designed to do effectively I might add.
    Wonderful photos, yes, they are seen in the trees, waiting for fresh
    food to appear. They usually don’t wait too long. Great post!

    • I also find it fascinating to learn the collective names for birds (and other animals), Tanja. Agreed, there is certainly strength in numbers – Great point! . . . .and these Black Vultures had quite the ‘presence’.

  7. I love this, and the memories it recalls. I’ve photographed vultures and other birds at a location here called Great Falls that is a set of reasonably large and magnificent waterfalls along the Potomac River. Vultures sometimes gather along the rocks near the water. I’m not certain, but I assume they gather there in case fish are thrown ashore. They often spread their wings while there. I’ve never seen them enter the water, I suspect they’d get swept downriver and drown. But the water is so violent in that area you can feel mist from it hitting your face sometimes from the observation areas so I’d guess the vultures collect a lot of water while sitting on the rocks.

    And your mention of the large group brought to mind something that just happened a couple months back. I heard a loud thump on my roof and worried about what might have happened. I went out back to look and noticed a wake (thanks, I didn’t know that’s what it’s called) of around 40 or more black vultures in the field and many more flying around, with one on almost every chimney or vent top on each roof nearby. I assume that’s what the noise was, a vulture landing on my roof. I kept watching and noticed a dead animal in the center of the fray. They kept at it until all I could see were bones. They returned in smaller numbers over the following days until I assume they realized there was nothing more here for them.

    They really are fascinating birds, despite their much maligned looks. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your Black Vulture memories and adventures, Todd! You reminded me of something I hadn’t thought of till now… we were down in Everglades Park at a popular birding and alligator site. There were dozens of Black Vultures there in the trees overhanging the parking lot. There were so many that posted signs everywhere warned about protecting your car (!!😳). They were loaning out big blue tarps for people to drape over cars in an effort to keep the Vultures off!

      • The tarps make a lot of sense, glad to hear they were doing that, and unfortunate they had to. Here’s an interesting report from USDA that mentions the many types of damage they can cause, both from ripping things apart and through very acidic bodily fluids. Fascinating read, and I didn’t realize they were a protected species.

        Click to access fs_vulture_damage_man.pdf

      • Sorry, looks like it didn’t let me include the link to the report. If you search the web for “managing vulture damage usda” it should show up at the very top. It’s a PDF report.

      • The link works just fine. It is amazing to see what the potential damage can be in multiple ways!Though I must say, I agree with you – they do a lot of good despite how maligned they often are.

  8. I watched this webinar recently on migratory patterns and something discussed was their populations changing seasonally due to migration or post-breeding dispersal. Turkey vultures for example, travel south from their northern breeding grounds as a winter visitor. Even though they are year-round residents, those that do some seasonal migration may be why we see such a large number of them suddenly. Similarly, although more of a short-distance migrant, the black vultures that spend summers in northern parts will actually move south for the winter:)

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