University of Florida

All About Vultures

Vultures might not be anyone’s favorite animal, but their presence is essential. These birds help the ecosystem by feeding on dead or dying animals. Although these scavengers display some odd behaviors, more information can help us become familiar with vultures.

Florida is home to two types of vultures—black vultures and turkey vultures. Both birds soar with their wings in a V-shape, but black vultures have black heads (with no feathers), short tails, and white feathers on the tips of their wings. Turkey vultures have red bald heads, red legs, and gray feathers on the underside of their wings; they are larger than black vultures.

Eating Habits

Vultures’ highly acidic stomachs allow them to eat dead and decaying animals without getting sick. Although vultures prefer to eat carrion, or dead animals, black vultures may kill and eat weak or dying animals such as calves and piglets. This may seem like gruesome behavior, but black vultures prevent starvation and disease by removing weak or dying animals from the environment. Vultures also help clean up roadkill and animals that die of natural causes, which may prevent the spread of diseases.

Vulture-Human Interaction

Although vultures play an important role in the environment, their presence in residential areas may frighten or annoy people. These birds can damage homes and nearby property by tearing caulking from windows, scratching car paint, destroying patio furniture, and pulling pool covers.

Vultures vomit on their attackers as a self-defense mechanism and defecate on themselves to keep cool. These birds are adaptable and can live around humans, so their acidic vomit and feces can accumulate on roofs and electrical structures, causing power outages.

They also congregate in large roosts, allowing weaker birds to follow stronger ones and feed. These roosts may include hundreds of vultures and can sometimes gather in woodlots or people’s backyards.

Vultures can damage property, attack small, weak livestock, and are even viewed as an annoyance, but these federally-protected birds play a vital role in the ecosystem. In addition to removing dead animals, vultures recycle nutrients that are used by plants. Although vultures may seem peculiar, their behavior is explainable and important to the natural environment.

Adapted and excerpted from:

E. Foerste, Plant Life Column: Vultures, UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County (07/2001).

Turkey Vulture,” UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation (Accessed 09/2013).

Vulture Damage Management,” USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (10/2010).


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