The Purifier – Clothed in Black

American Black Vulture Face

Black Vulture Face - Note reddish-brown iris of the eye and corrugated 
skin of head and neck. Interesting face, eh?

bottom flourish for vine

Whereas the Woodstork is sometimes called Preacher Bird for its elegant, wise-in-the-ways-of-the-universe expression, the Black Vulture with its cloak of black and somber gaze belongs graveside among the mourners. The shambling, sidelong gait, patient gaze, and flat,dusky lustre of its dark feathers only accentuates its brooding appearance. When you see them in groups on a dusty road turning their eyes toward you, darkly watchful, and then with a couple of awkward, teetering hops take to the air, they seem somewhere between comical, sympathetic, and mournful.  They don’t always go far, but rather will stay and observe you from the safe elevation of a cypress tree.

Black Vulture-Cypress Vantage-SunningHere the Black Vulture adopts the sunning posture, a spread-wing 
stance  for wing drying,  warmth, and creating inhospitable heat to
 ward off pests in the feathers. All the while keeping an eye on
 the lady with the camera!!

The American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is one of the two vultures found in South Florida. The other is the red-faced Turkey Vulture. Compared to some more esoteric taxonomic names, those assigned to the Black Vulture are descriptively perfect. The word vulture comes from the Latin, vulturus, meaning ‘tearer‘ describing the feeding behaviour of a carrion eater. From the Latin, ater, meaning black, comes the species name, atratus, meaning ‘clothed in black.’ Likewise, the Genus name Coragyps means ‘raven-vulture’ from combining the Greek corax (raven) and gyps (vulture). The Black Vulture is a member of  the family Cathartidae meaning ‘purifier.’ (Wikipedia) This alludes to the cleansing role of a carrion eater and scavengers without which dead carcasses would remain a grisly platform for disease and germs. For the similarity of coloring with the feathers of a crow, Audubon called this bird the Black Vulture or Carrion Crow. Unlike the shining iridescence of another black bird, the Boat-Tailed Grackle, the vulture’s black is quite dull and seems to absorb all light without reflecting any.

The American Black Vulture is considered a New World bird and while similar in appearance to the Old World Vultures of Europe, that similarity is thought due to convergent evolution, different ancestors, but similar roles. While Old World Vultures are related to eagles and hawks, our New World Black Vulture is thought to be related to storks rather than hawks and eagles. And here it is surprisingly interesting to me to see some of those similarities. Such as, the vultures having dusky looking white legs. Just like the Woodstork, the black vulture deposits urine and feces on its own legs. As the water in the mixture evaporates, the legs are cooled. Also, like storks both male and female care for the young and feed their young by regurgitation.

Black Vulture-BW

In this black and white treatment it is easy to see the white streaks
 of urates squirted onto its legs for cooling. Similar to the behavior
 of the Woodstork.

I would refer you to American Black Vulture and Audubon exerpt on black vulture – carrion crow for more detail on these dark harbingers of death overlooked in favor the lovely White Egret, the majestic Great Blue Herons or other more cheery residents of the swamp.

bottom flourish for vine

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~ by Judy on March 13, 2016.

10 Responses to “The Purifier – Clothed in Black”

  1. Fabulous photos.

  2. I have an odd liking for the vulture, though being an ‘Old Worlder’ I haven’t taken much notice of the birds of the New World. So thank you for this post. As ever. photos fantastic.

  3. I’ve always been a little frightened by vultures, but your photographs are fantastic!

  4. I can’t believe it, Judy. I’m trying to finish up my first post that includes photos taken with my new lens, and there’s both a turkey vulture and a boat-tailed grackel involved! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the telephoto when I took the photo of the vultures, but the pic is good enough.

    I’ve never seen this species. Your photos make it appear almost — appealing. In fact, I think it doesn’t look quite as ragged as our turkey vultures. Maybe ours live rougher lives, having to perch on telephone poles instead of cypress branches. I’ve never seen one with the wings spread like that, either. I’ve seen it with Great Blue Herons, and an egret or two, but it surprises me that the vultures do it. Now that I think about it, it makes sense, of course. That’s one reason I love your blog — come for the photos, stay for the information!

    • Now I feel guilty for all the information that I left off!! But, I did find it interesting that the black vultures we see here are considered related to storks. That was a surprise to me since you think of storks and their long legs.

      It is true that both black vultures and turkey vultures as look very ragged. And, these did to me also in person. Even though my photos picked up some brown tones in the feathers, they appear kind of a bedraggled dusty light absorbing black most of the time. The look like they work hard. I also think maybe some of these are younger birds, but can’t be too sure. But, younger vultures have he feathers going higher up the neck onto the head and the neck line seems maybe high to me. This is like other baldy birds like spoonbills and woodstorks, they have a very receeding hairline with aging.

      Yeah, the wing spread posture turns out is rather common to all kinds of birds, despite the fact that my first view of it was on a Great White Heron and I thought it must be a mating invitation or something. 🙂 I think reasons may vary from species to species though, like drying, thermoregulation, discouraging parasites etc.

      I greatly look forward to your new images of these species too!! I probably should post a turkey vulture or two. Their faces and beaks are so interesting to me. And, like the black vulture they do have such warm brown eyes…you know for something that looks for dead or helpless stuff to eat!!

  5. I just… ADORE these guys, so of course I adore your post! I’ve had one waiting in the wings for some time, and I really need to get off my heinie and get to it. 🙂 Their role in the general upkeep of ANY ecosystem is absolutely critical. I was just talking with a raptor rehabilitaor about the effects of diclofenac poisoning on the vulture populations, and the valiant efforts of a few people to help in their conservation. Just…amazing. So: HOORAY VULTURES! Your images are gorgeous.

  6. What an impressive bird he is – he has a stark beauty and mystery.

  7. What a wonderful experience, seeing and capturing one of these amazing birds Judy. I have never seen one up close only on nature shows. Beautiful images.

  8. Beautiful photo-love the b&w treatment. I have a soft spot for vultures — and wood storks. In fact, I’ve been drawing wood storks lately.

    • I can’t tell if you looked at my wood storks yet but if you type wood storks in the search bar it will show a list of postings for you.

      Glad you enjoyed the vultures. I agree on having a soft spot for them. I don’t exactly find their gaze predator like but rather friendly….in a wary way 🙂

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