Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wildlife Watch: The Black Vultures

If you've been a visitor to Graeme Park lately, you may have noticed a few ominous looking figures hanging around (and no, we don' t mean our ghosts!). We've had a pair of black vultures on site for the past season, perching on the barn roof, fences, trees, and chimneys. According to the Cornell All About Birds website, black vultures are very social birds with strong family loyalty. They will aggressively prevent non-relatives from roosting with them or following them to food. They form pair bonds and will continue to feed their young for up to 8 months after fledging. They lay their eggs on the ground and both parents will take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. According to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, the babies are very susceptible to imprinting and if raised by humans will not be able to be released into the wild.

While they eat carrion, they do not have a great sense of smell, and therefore will follow their red-headed relative, the turkey vulture, to food. While the turkey vulture is slightly larger, they are more solitary, so the social black vultures are then able to drive them away once they find the food. 

A few interesting (and kinda gross) facts about the black vulture. If threatened, they will throw up their food. According to Wikipedia, this defense mechanism helps to lighten their load so they can take off quicker and also may distract whatever it is that might be trying to prey on them - it will go for the regurgitated food rather than the bird. Their stomach acid is highly corrosive and will allow them to digest putrid food infected with bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers. They will also urinate down their legs, an act which kills the bacteria they pick up from walking through carcasses and also acts as a cooling method. 

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