Are Black Vultures Expanding Their Range?

  • A black vulture in Texas patiently waits for its next meal. Black vultures are common in the southern United States, but are rare in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. Photo: TexasEagle via Flickr

June 19, 2015

All over the country, people are posting to iSeeChange.org—an online almanac where people are recording observations and questions about changes in weather and climate.

Our Executive Producer, Kathy Knauer, posted a photo on the iSeeChange website this week. She was at a bed and breakfast just east of State College, Pennsylvania and saw a big black bird land in a tree. It looked not quite like a crow and not quite like a turkey vulture. She looked it up later and discovered it was a black vulture, which are common in the southeastern U.S. but are rarer in Pennsylvania. Kathy wanted to know if black vultures are expanding their range northward.

“Scientists don’t really know for sure,” says David Barr, vulture expert and research biologist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania. “There is some speculation that it might be due to food availability. In parts of this country, there’s large numbers of road-kill deer. And that has allowed the black vulture to expand its range northward.”

Barr says black vultures have been expanding their range since the 1950s, mostly along the coast to New England. Barr says he can’t speculate on whether global warming is a factor in their expansion north. But there’s been a significant increase in the number of black vultures they’ve counted at Hawk Mountain. They even have 3 nesting pairs on the property this season.

What are you seeing out there? Go to iseechange.org and share your thoughts, photos or videos.