The Purifier – Clothed in Black
Black Vulture Face - Note reddish-brown iris of the eye and corrugated skin of head and neck. Interesting face, eh?
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.
Here 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.
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.