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Species: Vulture

Protection Level
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Federally Protected yes
State Protected yes
VA Nuisance Species no


Turkey (Cathartes aura) and black (Coragyps atratus) vultures are both inhabitants of Virginia. Vulture damage can be grouped into two gross classifications of urban/suburban damage and livestock damage. Both the turkey vulture and black vulture are classified as migratory birds are therfore protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Turkey or black vultures or both vulture species may occupy roost sites in urban or suburban areas where they conflict with people. People tend to have health concerns about these roosts due to excessive accumulations of fecal droppings, concern for the health of children and pets who may be exposed to bacteria or viruses in vulture fecal droppings or vomit. Damage caused by turkey or black vulture roosts include loss of use of the property, the over-powering ammonia odor emanating from the roost site, death of ornamental trees from acidic fecal droppings or excessive limb breakage, and the aesthetically unappealing white-wash effect from fecal droppings on lawn furniture, the home, walkways, vehicles, and the yard. Damage concerns often associated with live stock are predation by black vultures and disease transmission but both species.

Identification and Distribution
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Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura




county distribution map for Cathartes aura

Black Vulture
Coragyps atratus

More Photos

Coragyps atratus


county distribution map for Coragyps atratus

Other Identification sources:

Cornell lab of Ornithology - Turkey Vulture

Cornell lab of Ornithology - Black Vulture


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In Virginia vultures are a protected non-game species. In addition to state non-game laws vultures are also federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries shares regulation authority over vultures with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. At no time is it legal to use lethal force on vultures without first obtaining a permit from both the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Virginia Laws

In Virginia it is illegal to

It is a Federal offence to

  • possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any vulture or vulture part since they are classified as a migratory species. (Migratory Bird Treaty Act)


Management Options
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Addressing the Consequences of Predator Damage to Livestock and Poultry, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Environmental Assessment for the Management of Vulture Damage in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services


Life History
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Two species of vultures are present in Virginia: turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) and black vulture
(Coragyps atratus). Vultures are in the family Cathartidae and are related to storks and egrets.

Turkey vultures are large dark brown birds with wing spans up to six feet and weigh about four
pounds (NWRC, unpublished data). Distinguishing characteristics of turkey vultures are a bright
red head on adults, the leading edge on the underside of the wing is black while the trailing edge
is gray, and the long tail extends well beyond the body when in flight (Peterson 1980). Turkey
vultures have been reported to live to 16 years of age (Henny 1990). In contrast, black vultures
have less than a five foot wing span and average 4.6 pounds in weight (NWRC, unpublished
data)(Peterson 1980). Adult and juvenile black vultures have dark grey heads, the body is black,
the underside of the wings are dark grey to blackish with white splotches at the end of the wing,
and the tail is relatively short (Peterson 1980) giving the appearance of a large bat when flying.
Black vultures have been reported to live to 25 years of age (Henny 1990). The mode of flight
between black and turkey vultures differ due to different wing lengths supporting about the same
body weight (Rabenhold and Decker 1989). Turkey vultures flap the wings a few times and glide
when at low altitudes, whereas black vultures must flap constantly interspersed with brief glides
when at low altitudes unless a strong wind blows. At high altitudes both vultures fly by primarily
gliding and riding thermal wind currents.
Black and turkey vultures generally lay 2 eggs which are incubated for approximately 40 days
(McHargue 1981). The young are fed and cared for by the adults for two to three months before
fledgling (Jackson 1983). A post fledgling dependency period where adults lead young to food
may exist for vultures (Rabenhold 1987, Jackson 1983). It is believed that vultures nest annually.

Turkey and black vultures are obligate scavengers (Rea 1983, Coleman and Fraser 1987). The
diet consists of carrion, fish, and invertebrates (Rea 1983, Rabenhold 1987, Coleman and Fraser
1987). However, black vultures will kill other animals and tear the animals apart for food (Roads
1936, McIlhenny 1939, Sprunt 1946, Lovell 1947, 1952, Parmalee 1954, Mrovsovsky 1971,
Lowney 1999).
Vultures roost in communal roosts, especially during late fall through early spring since this
behavior enhances the ability to find food. Roosts may number as few as 15 birds to over 1,000
(Prather et al. 1976, Lowney and Eggborn, unpublished data, J. Fraser, VPI & SU, pers.
In North America, black vultures occur in the southeastern United States, Texas, Mexico, and
parts of Arizona (Wilbur 1983). Black vultures have been expanding their range northward in
the eastern United States (Wilbur 1983, Rabenhold and Decker 1989). J. Bucknall (USDA, pers.
commun.) reported black vultures living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1995. Black vultures
are considered locally resident (Parmalee and Parmalee 1967, Rabenhold and Decker 1989),
however some populations will migrate (Eisenmann 1963 cited from Wilbur 1983). Turkey
vultures occur in all of Mexico, most of the United States, and in the southern tier of Canada
(Wilbur 1983, Rabenhold and Decker 1989). Also, turkey vultures continue to expand their
range into the northeastern United States (Wilbur 1983). Northern populations of turkey vultures
migrate from summer to more southern wintering areas (Stewart 1977).

Coleman, J. S. and J. D. Fraser. 1987. Food habits of black and turkey vultures in Pennsylvania and Maryland. J. Wildl. Manage. 51:733- 739.

Lovell, H. B. 1947. Black vultures kill young pigs in Kentucky. Auk 64:131-132.

Lovell,, H. B. 1952. Black vulture depredations at Kentucky woodlands. Auk 64:48-49.

Lowney, M.S. 1999. Damage by black and turkey vultures in Virginia, 1990-1996. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 27:715-719.

Mrovsovsky, N. 1971. Black vultures attack live turtle hatchlings. Auk 88:672-673.

McHargue, L. A. 1981. Black vulture nesting, behavior, and growth. Auk 98:182-185.

McIlhenny, E. A. 1939. Feeding habits of black vulture. Auk 56:472-474.

Jackson, J. A. 1983. Nesting phenology, nest site selection, and reproductive success of black and turkey vultures. Pages 245 - 270 In Vulture biology and management. Eds. by S.R. Wilbur and J. A. Jackson. Univ. Of CA Press. Berkeley.

Parmalee, P. W. 1954. The vultures: their movements, economic status, and control in Texas. Auk 71:443-453.

Peterson, R. T. 1980. A field guide to the birds east of the Rockies. Houghton Mifflin, Boston 384 p.

Henny, C. J. 1990. Mortality. Pages 140 - 151 In Birds of Prey. I. Newton, P. Olsen, and T. Pyrzalowski, eds. Facts on File, NY, NY.240p.

Rabenhold, P. P. 1987. Recruitment to food in black vultures: evidence for following from communal roosts. Anim. Behav. 35:1775-1785.

Rabenhold, P. P. and M. D. Decker. 1989. Black and turkey vultures expand their ranges northward. The Eyas. 12:11-15.

Rea, A. M. 1983. Cathartid affinities: A brief overview. Pages 26 - 54 In Vulture biology and management. Eds. by S.R. Wilbur and J. A. Jackson. Univ. Of CA Press. Berkeley.

Roads, K. M. 1936. Black vultures kill and eat new-born lambs. Wilson Bulletin 48:219

Sprunt, A. 1946. Predation on living prey by the black vulture. Auk 63:260-26.

Stewart, P. A. 1977. Migratory bird movements and mortality rate of turkey vultures. Birdbanding 48:122-124.

Wilbur, S. R. 1983. The status of vultures in the western hemisphere. Pages 113 -123 In Vulture biology and management. Eds. by S.R. Wilbur and J.A. Jackson. Univ. Of CA Press. Berkeley.



Additional life history information can be found at the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service Web page.

Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture

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There are many diseases that wildlife species are capable of carrying and transferring to humans (zoonotic diseases). While all zoonotic diseases are a serious threat to humans this website will only address those that are a concern for Virginia residents.

The Center is not aware of any diseases of concern that are transferable from vultures to humans.