Recently, I’ve been seeing more black vultures in Montgomery County. On a recent drive into the southwest part of the county, I spotted some flying above the forest surrounding State Road 234. This species, which historically ranges only into the southernmost parts of Indiana, is becoming more prevalent in more northerly areas of the state, which presents some challenges for both livestock producers and folks who own cars. I’ll explain more below, but let’s learn how to ID a black vulture first.
The black vulture is similar in appearance to the turkey vulture, the most common vulture we see in Indiana. Both have large wingspans and are primarily black in color. However, black vultures have gray skin on their heads whereas turkey vultures have bright red skin. Black vultures are also slightly smaller than turkey vultures and have some light gray-to-silver feathers at their wingtips when viewed in flight. Another major difference you may notice is that black vultures tend to fly at higher altitudes than turkey vultures.
Like turkey vultures, black vultures are known for consuming roadkill and carrion, which helps keep our roadways clean and helps carcasses in the wild to decompose. However, unlike turkey vultures, black vultures are known to prey upon and kill animals for food. Most of the animals they kill are wildlife, but they occasionally kill young livestock (piglets, lambs and calves). Beyond livestock damage, a strange behavior exhibited by black vultures is their attraction to rubber seals and tires on vehicles. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources issued a publication about this phenomenon when folks started noticing extensive damage to rubber on their vehicles parked at boat ramps at places like Lake Monroe. Not only did they see black vultures roosting on top of vehicles and scratching paint with their claws, they also have witnessed them stripping windshield wiper rubber, sunroof seals, and door seals as well as damaging tires. No one knows why the vultures “attack” vehicles — any rubber that they strip is simply discarded, not consumed.
Black vultures are expanding their range northward as their populations increase. While vehicle damage is certainly a concern, livestock damage is of particular concern for many. If you are a livestock producer concerned about black vultures, contact the Purdue Extension Office. We have a survey available that will help researchers in the Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources Department better understand black vultures. We welcome your participation in the survey.
Ashley Adair is the Montgomery County Extension Educator, Ag and Natural Resource. The office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.