Coragyps atratus – Florida’s Black Vulture


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 at times.

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.

The words above are lifted from my own past post on the subject with other images you could see at: The Purifier – Clothed in Black

I have a fascination for these oft’ unappreciated birds whose very necessary function is a bit morbid for most attracted to lovelier birds such as breeding white egrets with their gauzy train of aigrettes. Perhaps it is a natural contrast in sensibility between our dark ‘purifier’ and the ‘purity’ of the lacy white egret aigrettes. The earth and its inhabitants constitute an interconnected organic living thing with many ‘jobs’ to keep the whole healthy. And so…the vultures.

This selection is from my day in 2020 on Loop Road – Big Cypress Preserve.

Black vulture busy at work concentrating on this rather dessicated looking fish along the side of the dusty road.


Jared Diamond on the subject:

“Bird taxonomy is a difficult field because of the severe anatomical constraints imposed by flight. There are only so many ways to design a bird capable, say, of catching insects in mid-air, with the result that birds of similar habitats tend to have very similar anatomies, whatever their ancestry. For example, American vultures look and behave much like Old World vultures, but biologists have come to realize that the former are related to storks, the latter to hawks, and that their resemblances result from their common lifestyle.”

~ by Judy on June 29, 2021.

18 Responses to “Coragyps atratus – Florida’s Black Vulture”

  1. I am so happy that you care for vultures. And what’s not to love? Without them we’d be knee deep in dead critters.

    • My husband sometimes wonders about my interest in “bald” birds such as the vultures, spoonbills, or wood storks. But, it is not the baldness that attracts but rather the overall look and surprising expressions. I find with both the black vulture and turkey vulture,for all that dreadfulness of the role they serve, their expression I find oddly…friendly!! Could be that the eyes of both when sunlit have brown coloring. This puts it into the human range of eye color and out of that cold reptilian type feel of say.. yellow eyes not in the human range. Yeah? What’s not to love? 🙂

  2. Thank you for this insightful lesson on the Black Vulture. We don’t have them in New Jersey, but last year I managed to get close to a Turkey Vulture:

    • I do very much love the turkey vultures. I find the beak and expressions of those very interesting. Well next time you are in Black Vulture territory you’ll enjoy shooting them I know (with camera of course)!! I am glad you enjoyed the text..they are interesting species.

  3. Hi Judy. I learned a lot about the. Vultures from your post and was surprised to read they are related to Storks. Your photos shed light on their behavior and I like the portrait of the Black Vulture atop the pole the most. When I lived in South Florida years ago a big deal was made about Turkey Vultures and sadly I didn’t really appreciate them until I moved here and saw them soaring above traffic lanes. One year I caught them migrating over a cove at 5h3 lake. There were easily 50 flying over my head. Stunning! And in your post I love how you contrast them with the beauty of the Egrets. Beauty and the Beast. Best, Babsje

    • Oh thanks…I like the Beauty and the Beast observation. One funny difference seems to be the appeal of alligators vs white egrets. The rookery I go to has a couple of gators on the premises. Any time someone new comes up to me to ask anything its always did you see an alligator rather than a beautiful white egret. For some reason that surprises me at a bird rookery. They want to beast and the beauty is jut ho hum. LOL!!

  4. Incredible photos, Judy. So good to see

  5. We have both species here, and they’re fascinating. I really like the black and white photo. Mostly, I prefer color, but b&w suits some subjects perfectly, and this is one. They do love their high perches. There’s one dead tree I pass from time to time that sometimes has as many as four or five gathered. They’re great fun to see, and they do a fine job of keeping things clean.

  6. How I have missed your stunning photos. Judy. The B&W photos are very bold and really captured the spirit ~ incredible and I think with vultures this boldness makes this post otherworldly 🙂 Cheers and wishing you the best.

    • I think that like has thrown us all a few obstacles in the last couple of years distracting us from some of our routines. I have to beg forgiveness for not quite keeping up with my WordPress posting and valued WordPress friends. You know I always love your own thoughtful posts punctuated by wonderful photography; those reads always being a treat for me. The black vulture post was a belated one for a bird which I find fascinating on many levels. I am glad that you enjoyed the imagery of the bird with the very essential job. Funny how Covid has changed the concept of the word Essential as applied to jobs. Well, undoubtably, the vulture’s job is one of those.

  7. This species and the turkey vulture are the two that inhabit central Texas, so we have something in common.

    • It is always nice when a species…fauna or flora…bridges that geographical gap so that there is a sense of seeing old friends many places.

      Thanksgiving is just around the corner…have a happy one!!

      • Likewise to you. Hard to believe how 2021 is speeding toward its end already.

      • Same feelings here. Just today I was organizing some folders, invoices and that like and already sorting with end of year in mind. Also, thinking a trip to the bird rookery is in order now that it is cooler and being on the brink of the season. Tempus fugit indeed.

      • A friend of ours who died this year used to enjoy changing the Latin aphorism to “Tempus fidgets.”

      • Time is fleeting and fidgety!! Did you know in 1787 we had a copper penny design with a sun shining down on a sundial with the caption FUGIO on the side meaning I flee/fly referring to time flying by? It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and called the Fugio Cent. There’s info on Wikipedia for quick reference. Not sure what the mintage actually was. But it seems very Ben Franklin to me with’ Mind Your Business’ on it too.

      • I don’t think I knew about the Fugio cent. I found the article you referred to:

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