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 — 167 Comments

  1. Spotted just above the Muddy Creek Boat Launch in Southern York County. E70 Buzzard 1-12-2020

  2. Upperco, MD 1/7/2020 captured by trail cam. No alpha-numeric information visible. Red tags on both wings.

  3. Saw adult Black Vulture with red wing tag in a group on Rt 7, south of Bear, Delaware on Nov 19 2019. They were on the lawn on east side of Rt. 7. Could not turn around to see a number. Tag almost appeared to have a bit of white or yellow above it, much like a smaller Red Wing Blackbird’s wing. Wish I could have seen a number but driving and not able to turn around. In a group of about 20, no carcass seen on homes lawn.

  4. Pam,
    Amazing info and thanks for the update!

    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.

    We watched the adults, mating, nesting, egg, pip, hatch, same as Stevie/#26. After they were tagged
    347/Tori and 294/Ren, an unfortunate event occurred. Ren was severly injured by a raccoon in the nest area and after attempts to heal the leg, the young BV didn’t survive. Tori is now 2 years old, hatched in 2017.

    Seeing Tori is NJ is wonderful and valuable information to documenting and tracking! Thanks.

  5. Eric and everyone, THANKS MUCH for the updates and photos.

    We were fortunate enough to watch #26’s parents-to-be. The adults courted, mated, she laid eggs, We watched for a month, pip to hatch, first feedings and many wonderful things happened to him.
    He is named Stephen Colbert, nicknamed Stevie/26. He was born in 2013, just turned 6 this summer. Can you add the area you saw/photographed him?

    The other photos are great, but I am unaware of their history.

  6. Black Vulture Tag# HXC is currently at our location just walking around with all the other wild vultures in the area.

    Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
    18328 Gulf Blvd
    Indian Shores, FL 33785

  7. We spotted black vulture number 347 in our backyard in Hopewell Township, NJ. He was one of about a dozen vultures in our yard on 27 August 2019.

  8. I found this tagged black vulture in the Mars parking lot in Hackettstown, NJ. It was part of a flock of at least 46 vultures. Is it one of yours? If not, who should I contact. I did post it on ebird.

  9. I spotted a black vulture among many on our farm on TUESDAY,JULY 30 2019.i FIRST THOUGHT IT WAS INJURED on it’s wing but as I was able to get closer I realized it was a red tag and there was one in each wing.I was only able to see the letter C clearly followed by either a number or letter.We are located in eastern Greenbrier County near Lewisburg,WV.Curious to have additional info. Sorry I didn’t get the entire ID but will maintain a vigilant eye.

  10. We witnessed a Black Vulture with a yellow wing tag, code TXM today, the 4th of July 2019, in New Port Richey, Florida.
    I reported the encounter to the BBL online. As a former waterfowl subpermittee bander. I love these encounters and understand the importance of reporting them.

  11. Part II (same bird) Actually, now that the picture has posted it looks like the tag might say C19?? This was found in Union Bridge, Maryland.

  12. I’m not sure if you’re looking for information about those with red tagging, but one was on my deck this morning with a red tag on each wing but I didn’t see anything written on the tags. Two weeks ago 73 where on my roof, deck, yard, but I didn’t see any tags. (!)

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