A visitor from the south

When my wife lived in DC, I’d occasionally make impromptu trips down from Vermont Friday afternoon. One spring afternoon, on my drive back north, I spotted a vulture circling over I-95 (it’s possible soaring scavengers are drawn to areas with lots of asphalt. The dark surfaces bake in the sun and send thermals rising up keeping the vultures aloft). In two were several others rising up over the ridge flanking the interstate. The birds were very much like turkey vultures, large, black, gliding smoothly on thermals. But something was, well, different. The tails were cropped short, their wings stubbier, and the sun glinted off the white wing tips. It was the first time I’d ever seen a black vulture, Coragyps atratus. And what a treat I was in for – on that drive I counted well over 300 black vultures circling overhead between DC and about NYC. As the black vulture trail petered out, they were replaced by the occasional small cluster of turkey vultures migrating back to Vermont. 

Black vulture soaring over The Chase Mill (Burlington)

But things have been changing. Since the 1950s, black vultures have been steadily expanding their range northward (though they are losing ground in the southern part of their range: source). Observations have started popping up more regularly in Vermont, and they’ve even begun to breed here in Burlington (link). This winter I’ve seen what I think is the same group of 3 black vultures all over Burlington. I first spotted them in early January circling over North Alliance Church. But I’ve never had my camera with me. Well, as luck (or planning – I’ve been carrying my zoom lens in my car the past couple weeks) would have it, I spotted a pair of black vultures circling over Salmon Hole. I pulled over at The Chase Mill and was able to snap a couple of photos. 

So keep your eyes up in the sky as that vulture might not be a turkey!

Black vulture soaring over The Chase Mill (Burlington)
Compare black vultures (above)
with turkey vultures (below)
Pair of turkey vultures soaring together (Bristol)

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