American Black Vulture

Black Vultures playing in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Black Vultures playing in back yard (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Patty Wahlers, founder and President of H.O.R.S.E. of CT, www., has rescued a lot of animals over the last 30 years.  With the help of a small group of volunteers, she has rehabilitated over 650 horses and ponies.  But, that’s not the only animal she has taken in since she started her farm in 1982.  Dozens of unwanted cats have been discarded at her door step, various dogs; from German Shepherds, Dobermans, Pit Bulls, and Mastiffs have been left behind, chickens and a “man eating” rooster have been abandoned on her property, even a donkey was dropped off.  But the weirdest animal to ever make temporary residence came in the most unexpected way; it flew in and knocked on the front door.

Yes, it started with a rather persistent knock at the front door, but when Patty looked out she didn’t see anything, so she walked away thinking it may be a prank.  But, there it was again: “Knock, knock, knock”.  This time she opened the door, looked out and still didn’t see anything . . . at first . . . and then she looked down.  And there, on her front porch, as bold and brazen as could be, was a young black vulture clearly waiting to be fed.  He eyed her quite expectantly, as if to say: “There’s a rumor going round that you help out critters in need.  Well, here I am.  And I’m hungry!”

Black vulture pulling ball in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Black vulture pulling deflated ball (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Patty is a vegetarian, but she always has meat on hand for her dogs and cats.  She ran back in the house and hurriedly cut up some raw chicken for the waiting visitor.  And thus began the long-time friendship and bond with black vultures.  Since the word got out, young vultures that just need a little help on occasion, stop by for some sustenance and then move on.  But others come in their place, so at any given time there may be as many as five or six young vultures up in her surrounding trees, waiting for a meal before they head off on the horizon.

Black Vulture playing with ball in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Black Vulture playing with deflated ball (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Abundant in the Western hemisphere, the black vulture (Coragyps atratus, Latin for black raven-vulture) is quickly becoming more popular in North America.  There are several ways to distinguish the black vulture from our more common turkey vulture; the most noticeable difference is their coloring and markings: instead of the turkey vulture’s bald red wrinkled head, black vultures have a dark grey unfeathered head and a beak that is 2/3 black and the tip is beige.  While the turkey vulture sails on the thermals, the black vulture flaps its wings more frequently.  And, is the least graceful when it comes to take-off and landing.  Unlike the more solitary turkey vulture, black vultures prefer to travel in flocks.  They bond with their families and are said to be monogamous.

Like the turkey vulture, the black vulture feeds primarily on carrion, however they have been known to attack small prey and chomp on an occasional pumpkin, as well.  Their sense of smell is not as acute as the turkey vulture, so they rely more on visual sightings to find food.  The black vulture prefers the seclusion of dense forest, and after carefully monitoring an areas isolation, will lay its eggs (up to three) in a nest on the ground.  Vultures, like other large birds, are susceptible to lead poisoning (from eating animals killed with lead bullets) and DDT contaminants.

Resting black vulture in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Exhausted black vulture (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Due to the lack of a syrinx, the vocal cord of birds, baby black vultures make an unusual snoring sound, young adults make a growling sound when threatened, and adults make a “puff, puff, puff” panting sound.  To hear them and for more info, visit the Cornell Lab of Orinthology’s “All About Birds” web site :

Black vulture preening in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Preening black vulture (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is no attempt to tame or capture these wild birds, nor should there be.  But her home of 47 acres allows the birds a little sanctuary to rest and refuel before continuing on their migratory route, while keeping them well away from neighbors that might object to such an animal dropping by.  As for me, I’ve experienced these enormous birds circling over head, blocking the sun momentarily.  I have seen them on the side of the road cleaning up a carcass. I find them quite beautiful in their own way, remembering them perched on a nearby fence one morning, wings glistening with dew, stretched out as the warm sun rose in the sky.


  1. So the vultures come on their own? How very interesting. Vultures do not appear to be common in my area of CT (Hartford suburb). Perhaps due to a lack of open space.

    Kudos to your friend who operates the horse rescue. For many years I worked with miniature schnauzer rescue groups. Dog rescue can be overwhelming. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to scramble for resources needed to care for horses.

    • Black vultures aren’t normally up this far north, I think things have changed recently~perhaps global warming? But they do show up randomly, and like to play (as you can see from pictures) as well as have a snack! As for the H.O.R.S.E. organization, it does get overwhelming at times, especially when they get to an animal too late . . . which has happened more times than you want to know. But, they have rescued hundreds and I believe there are around 35 to 40 at the farm being cared for now. They have wonderful volunteers and thankfully, some generous donors that keep the place going. Thanks for writing and Happy 2013!

  2. Dottie Lynch says:

    Hi Kathy,
    We have a piece of property of 19 acres and for the past 2- years we have had baby black vultures born here in a old shed of ours. I go everyday down back and check on the baby only one this year —-last year we had 2—-I talk to them everyday and also the Parents—-when I am mowing the lawn on the tractor the big ones seem to follow me and I holler and talk to them—-they really seem to know me——I just love them and love watching them—

    • Thanks for sharing, Dottie! Vultures get a bad rap, really they are gentle creatures with a yucky job. I love watching them soar above our fields, or perched on a fence in the morning with wings extended to dry in the sun. The truly are incredible creatures. Thank you again for writing~

  3. They will not attack my 1 year old or the animals that are living in the neighborhood? I just noticed a couple hanging out in my back yard. Why here? They make me nervous. I don’t need them attacking children who come over here.

    • Not to worry, Melissa. Vultures are nature’s garbage men; they clean up road kill or carcasses left in the woods. If they are hanging out in your neighborhood, someone has something dead nearby. Rest assured, when that is gone, the vultures will be as well. They are intimidating because of their size, but they will not attack you or children.

  4. Amy Jarratt says:

    I have a pair of Black Vultures that have been coming almost daily for 3 years & every Aug bring that years young with them. I enjoy them so much. They are so playful & interested in everything. The neighbors can’t believe how they follow me around the yard & stay for hours at a time.If I sit in a chair they will line up next to me & lay down & preen & pull my shoes off & toss them up into the air.One even put his head up my pant leg. They have always been gentle with me.I do feed them . They get up into the birdbath & drink, bathe & play.I like to watch their interaction with each other.

    • Your relationship with these amazing vultures sounds wonderful! So many folks disregard them, thinking they are ugly and gross. Like you, I find them personable, playful and always enjoy watching their antics. I’ve seen them play in a kiddie pool and toss a bouncy ball back and forth! Thank you for sharing your heartwarming story, Amy, I always love to hear from my readers ~

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