As long as I was going to be seeing so many vultures in Texas, I realized I had a great opportunity to learn the differences between Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. Turkey Vultures are common in upstate New York, but Black Vultures are expanding into our area, so learning to tell them apart may very well come in handy at home too.
With their huge 6 foot wingspan, Turkey Vultures are easy to pick out as they catch thermals high in the sky. They soar with their wings in a dihedral shape (a shallow V) and often teeter from side-to-side. The ends of the wings (their primaries) look like long fingers. The front edge of the wings to just past the wrist is black; the trailing edge and primaries are greyish white.
As they come closer to earth, perhaps zeroing in on the carrion they eat almost exclusively, we can pick out other features like their bald red head.
One of the first things you notice different about the Black Vulture is that the white on the underside of their wings is only at the wingtips. They also hold their wings level while soaring (vs. the TV's shallow V) and you don't see them tipping from side-to-side. Their tail is stubbier, in fact the tips of their toes may extend beyond the end of the tail.
When you see the black and turkey vultures soaring together, the difference in their wingspan is especially noticeable; the Black Vulture's wingspan is under 5 feet, at least a foot shorter.
- Neither of these vultures build nests with nest material. They just lay eggs on a flat surface of the nest site.
- Black Vultures don't have as keen a sense of smell as Turkey Vultures. They'll find their food by site, or by hanging around with Turkey Vultures and letting them sniff out a meal.
- Black Vultures are more aggressive than Turkey Vultures and will drive Turkey Vultures off carrion.
- Black Vultures have a more diverse diet and are common scavengers at garbage dumps, or at open trash bins like in this suburban park.
Turkey Vultures were once rare in New York, but now have a wide distribution across most of the state. Could the Black Vulture experience a similar expansion?