Vultures


Appearance

Two species of vulture can be observed in Fairfax County: Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura).

Black vultures are 22 to 27 inches long with a 4.5 to 5 foot wingspan, and weigh 4 to 5 lbs. The tail is relatively short. Body color is black with a white outer wing patch that is visible in flight. The legs and feet are light gray. The beak and head are gray and absent of any feathers.

Turkey vultures are 24 to 25 inches long with a 5 to 6 foot wingspan, and weigh 3.5 to 5 lbs. The tail is relatively long. Body color is dark brown with a darker feather ruff around the neck. The legs are gray to pink. The beak is ivory, the head is red and absent of any feathers. Juvenile vultures have a dark gray head and beak. 

Behavior

Vultures are a federally protected migratory bird. Federal and state regulations apply to all vulture management activity (lethal or non-lethal).Vultures generally pose little threat to humans, their property or pets, although large flocks can cause property damage .

Vultures do not build nests, but lay eggs on the ground at a selected nest site, such as under logs, inside hollow trees, caves, or abandoned buildings. In February to April, females lay 1-3 eggs with an incubation period of 28 to 40 days. Black Vultures are thought to mate for life, whereas Turkey Vultures form established pairs only to raise young during the breeding season. Vultures are migratory, social birds that form large communal roosts.

Turkey Vultures have a superior sense of smell. Black Vultures have a poor sense of smell and must follow other vultures to find food. One carcass can attract dozens of vultures of both species from across a large area.

Diet

Vultures are carnivorous scavengers. A natural diet primarily consists of dead animals (carrion) and incapacitated or vulnerable live animals (e.g. injured or very young) on occasion. A modified diet can include newborn livestock (e.g. calves).

Habitat

Vultures primarily inhabit wooded areas of Fairfax County to roost and nest. Vultures can be seen on the sides of roads and open areas to forage for food.


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