Vultures are large dark-plumaged birds with small bare heads. Although classified as birds of prey, they seldom kill their own food and are primarily scavengers, feeding on dead animals. Their featherless heads and necks allow them to feed neatly on carrion. Vultures serve an important function as part of nature’s clean-up crew
Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vultures, sometimes mistakenly called buzzards, are large, dark birds common throughout most of North America. They are the master soarers of the raptor world, effortlessly gliding on air currents and thermals for long periods of time. Their distinctive flight – veering and tilting with the wings held in a shallow “V” – makes them easy to identify.
Turkey Vultures are approximately two feet tall and have wingspans of up to six feet. The undersides of their wings are two-toned, blackish in front and silver-gray on the rear half. They have small featherless heads which are black when the birds are young and red when they are adults.
These birds eat carrion and will feed on any dead animal, large or small.Vultures are social raptors – roosting, feeding and often flying together. They are probably the most commonly seen bird of prey in the state. They build no nest but lay their eggs on the ground generally in a cave, rock crevice or in a hollow log. Turkey vultures commonly breed throughout New Jersey.
Black vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Primarily a southern bird, in recent years the Black Vulture has expanded its range northward and has become more common in the state. In 1981, the first known New Jersey nesting of this species was recorded in Hunterdon County. Though its breeding numbers at present are still modest, the Black Vulture now regularly breeds here.
With a wingspan of about five feet, the Black Vulture is slightly smaller than the Turkey Vulture. The bird is dull black in color, including its bare head. Each wingtip has a large, whitish patch visible only when the wing is open. In flight Black Vultures can be identified by these wingpatches and by their short, square tails. They tend to flap more than Turkey Vultures and, when soaring, hold their wings straight out not upward in a “V”.