Tagging & Tracking

One of our long-term research objectives is to determine whether the same black vulture pair occupies the shed each year or if occupancy changes, possibly resulting from some form of competition. Another objective of our multi-generational study is to describe relationships between family members from year to year. When three vultures showed up at the shed January 2013, we wanted to know who they were and whether they were related.

Tagging the vultures enables us to identify specific individuals and to determine their inter-relationships. Leg bands or wing tags are placed on many species of birds each year to assist with research regarding parental behavior, migration patterns, survival rates, extended family associations, monogamy, and minimum breeding ages.

Wing tags rather than leg bands are broadly used to identify individual black vultures. This is because vultures regularly urinate on their legs, thereby killing the bacteria that might otherwise accumulate as a result of their walking through carrion while they clean up the environment. This urination also serves to cool their bodies through evaporation. If the kind of leg bands used for other birds were used for vultures, the bands could become encrusted with fecal residue and result in debilitating leg irritation. For this reason, patagial tags are used for vultures. These tags are secured to the birds’ patagium, a fold of skin in the front of their wings. The tags can be read from a considerable distance, both when the vultures are flying overhead and when they are perched. They remain in place for several years, often for the life-span of the bird.

Tri-State is fortunate to have support for our tagging from David Barber of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. David has extensive experience in wing-tagging and trains others in this procedure. Three interns accompanied David when he tagged a black vulture in northern Delaware on May 7, 2013. They were Marian Wahl of San Francisco, Marta Sendra Vega of Cadiz, Spain, and Hankyu Kim of Seoul, South Korea.

Adult vultures are tagged shortly after their chicks hatch since the adults are much less likely to abandon a nest then.  Chicks are tagged a couple weeks before they fledge, after which they are even more difficult to capture.  Gender was determined by DNA testing.

The pictures below demonstrate the challenges and care involved in capturing, tagging, and tracking black vultures. Click on a picture to enlarge it.

During May and June 2013, four of the five members of one vulture family were tagged with bright yellow wing tags from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, numbered as follows:
* Adult male: #17 (left wing)
* Adult female (presumed): untagged
* Male chick from adult pair: #26 (left wing)
* Male foster chick from MD: #30 (left wing)
* Male foster chick from MD: #267 (right wing)

On June 20, 2016 two more chicks from the nest were tagged:
• Chick from adult pair #56 (left wing)
• Chick from adult pair #247 (right wing)

On June 6, 2017, two more chicks from the nest were tagged:
• Chick from adult pair #347 (right wing)
• Chick from adult pair #294 (right wing) Died 7/12/17 as a result of a raccoon attack.

Three of these six birds have been sighted since they were tagged:

#17: Adult Male Tagged 5/6/13
5/9/13 Near Middle Run Valley Natural Area, Newark, DE (39d42’52.39” x 75d43’34.67”)
3/9/14 Old Coach Rd x Polly Drummond Hill Rd, Newark, DE (39d42’40.81” x 75d42’40.26”)
5/22/14 Near Middle Run Valley Natural Area, Newark, DE (39d42’52.39” x 75d43’34.67”)
8/6/14 Linden Hill Rd x Polly Drummond Hill Rd, Newark, DE (39d43’02.45” x 75d42’39.35”)
6/11/14 Near Stafford Avenue Park, Newark, DE (39d41’13.43” x 75d43’56.14”)

#26: Male Chick Tagged 6/13/13
9/25/13 New Linden Hill Rd x Boyds Valley Dr, Newark, DE (39d43’15.35” x 75d42’20.10”)
1/12/14 Bridlebrook Lane (?), Newark, DE (39d42’11.99” x 75d46’37.32”)
2/12/16 Woodland Trails, Newark, DE (39d38’52.00” x 75d54’30.00”)
3/3/16 Near Frightland, Middletown,DE (39d31’29.00” x 75d38’55.00”)

#267: Male Chick Tagged 6/13/13
9/25/13 New Linden Hill Rd x Boyds Valley Dr,Newark, DE (39d43’15.35” x 75d42’20.10”)

If you spot any vultures of any species with wing tags anywhere, please report your sighting in the comment section below. In addition, please submit information about US and Canadian sightings to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Include the date and location of the sighting, tag number, species, and any other pertinent information.  In return, the Laboratory will tell you where, when, and by whom the birds were tagged.  Reports can be submitted to BBL online at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/


Tagging & Tracking — 193 Comments

  1. We seem to always have a bunch of buzzards in a dead tree on the neighbor’s farm. This was the first time we saw one with a tag. Our eyes were too old to read the number even with binoculars, but we think it was 146 or 148. Red tag on both wings.
    Hudson Rd., Preston county, WV

  2. I Photographed a black vulture at Conowingo fisherman’s Park with a red tag on each wing with #E19, October 2, 2020, alive and eating a dead groundhog

  3. I spotted #56 in Kennett Square on Aug 24 around 7 pm. He was in the Longwood shopping center.

  4. Seen a black vulture with red tags on both wings. L 55. At the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville,Indiana. 8-24-20… 8:00am. I got pictures and video. It was with 20 or more birds. Would appreciate any information. Thanks

  5. Vultures have been hanging out on Marburg Lake, Hanover, Pa for a couple of weeks now. They love the island area for sunbathing. One has red tag on both wings with tag # C64

  6. I saw a vulture with a #26 tag on left wing on Tuesday June 16th at the entrance to the development of Meadowood, Newark DE 19711. It was eating some roadkill.

  7. May 29, 2020 I saw a black headed vulture with a red circular tag on each wing. It caught me so off guard that I didn’t think to try to read the number. I’m located in Davidsonville, MD on Davidsonville Rd. Can you tell me more about where it might have come from?

  8. I couldn’t get a picture but just saw a vulture with a yellow wing tag #357 in ravena ny, in a group of 15-20. A few days ago I saw yellow on a wing but didn’t realize it was a tag until I saw one up close. The one I saw a few days ago was in just a pair o vultures about 1/2 mile from the second sighting

  9. #247 spotted in a mixed wake at Red Clay Reservation off Old Wilmington Road in Hockessin today (May 15, 2020).

  10. Spotted #26 with paired with an untagged (assume female) They appear to be nesting inside a rotted shed in Meadowood in Newark DE. At first we thought there was something dead, but it was the same two and they seem content to hang around for some time now. the female keeps going inside the shed. The tag “26” isn’t visible in the photo, but I am 100% sure that is 26. I will try to use a selfie stick to take a shot in the old shed.

  11. saw buzzard at 10:30 A.M. on 3/14/20. This one of 7, had red flagged wings w/ either N08 or N68 on them. It was a large, all dark grey bird. First time I’ve seen a flagged buzzard since feeding them for past 10 years or so.

  12. Turkey Buzzard with Red Tag #112 on Both wings seen in leafless hackberry tree behind my house at 115 Douglas Drive (Tuscawilla Hills Subdivision) Charles Town, Wv this morning at 7 a.m. Also observed on roof of neighbors house behind mine.

    When observed on neighbors roof it was accompanied by 10+ other turkey buzzards. They were just standing on the roof, with no observed behavior of picking at shingles etc.

    When observed in the tree it was accompanied by 2 other untagged birds, they were just sitting on the bare branches of the tree. At the same time 2 birds were observed on the roofs of two different neighbor’s houses.

    For the last 2-weeks a group of est. 30 birds has been nesting each night in the bare trees in the common ground behind the house on our street. Shortly after daybreak they disperse, but have been returning to the same trees each evening.

    Today was the first day the tagged bird has been seen. The birds observed have grey necks and heads.

    Keith Elliott

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