Black Vultures — Just Hanging Out
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I have a real soft spot for Vultures — whether they be Black Vultures or Turkey Vultures. These much-maligned birds perform a socially useful function and they are fascinating to observe. I also think that both species fall into the so ugly that they’re cute category of creatures.
I think that a lot of people tend to lump the two species together if they think about them at all. That’s too bad because there are significant differences between the species aside from their appearance. Turkey Vultures tend to be solitary birds except during their breeding season and when they are migrating. Blacks, by contrast, are more social. One can often observe a Turkey Vulture flying alone or perched by itself. However, when one sees a Black Vulture there are usually others nearby. Turkey Vultures in our neck of the woods are seasonal birds. Nearly all of them — with a few exceptions — head out of here in mid-autumn for points south. Black Vultures are year-rounders. Turkey Vultures have extraordinary senses of smell. Black Vultures do not, but they compensate for that with exceptionally keen vision. There are other differences between the species.
I’m always pleasantly surprised when I come across Black Vultures. They command a large territory between Tucson and Phoenix but one seldom sees them in the same place two times in a row. Often, I’ll drive the farmlands and see no Blacks at all. On other occasions I’ll run across flocks that may be up to 100 or more birds in size. It just depends on what’s available to eat. A dead cow is a Black Vulture magnet.
Recently, I came across two Black Vultures roosting on a utility pole. They were extraordinarily laid back, showing little or no interest in me as I approached them to take some pictures.
One of the pair sat indifferently as I photographed it. The second bird was so relaxed that it spread its wings for me.
Vultures of both species engage in this behavior. Some other species, like Cormorants, Anhingas, and some Herons, do it as well. I’ve only seen Vultures do this when they are perfectly at ease. They seem to be soaking up the sun much as a beachgoer would. Researchers believe that Vultures do this in order to dry the morning dew on their feathers and to warm up. They refer to the Vultures’ spread wing position as the “Horaltic pose.”
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f8 @ 1/2000.