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 — 249 Comments

  1. Seen black vulture with the number 80 on right wing in Spring Hill, Tennessee eating road kill. Never seen one with yellow on the wing so I glanced and seen the numbers

  2. Red Tagged black vulture #E50 seen on my neighbors roof on 2249 Viewland Circle, Christiansburg, VA with 2 others not tagged. 2nd sighting 9/14/2021

  3. I saw tagged Black vulture # 139A on our barn this morning approx 10 am 8/23/2021 crusher rd Perkiomenville , pa 18074

  4. tagged black vulture in back yard Hesston pa red tag E18 first time ever seen one 8/6/2021

  5. Have a video I would like to post but website tells me it’s invalid.

  6. Saw two black vultures in field by my house . Red tags number H51 and H32 on 07/20/21 at 3:00 pm in Masontown WV

  7. Spotted a buzzards in my back yard 6-26-21
    Eating a groundhog I had killed. It had a orange wing tag on. Couldn’t make out any numbers. But was my first sighting ever of one with a tag

  8. Yellow tagged in my yard in Clark’s summit pa. Every other day for three years..brought ,
    4 others last year..very interesting to watch!!

  9. Today on Stover Fork Rd in Roane County. 2 red tags one in each wing.

  10. Had a tagged black headed vulture with the usual ones in our yard yesterday. He or she looked healthy. The tag was bright green with black 12A on both wings.

  11. Have a large number of vultures feeding on a groundhog carcase in my yard this morning. I counted 19 on the ground at one time. One bird had large, round, red tags on both wings, but I couldn’t tell if they were numbered even with binoculars.

  12. I spotted a Black Vulture with green wing tags 78A in Dauphin County PA at Swatara Creek Park (East Hanover) today June 11

  13. Spotted a black vulture with red wing tags eating roadkill on a rural East Berlin,PA road.
    Also spotted two other untagged black vulture at the same time.
    Just read up on your interesting research projects.

  14. Jan
    Thank you so much for your kindness and consideration and information!

    After nesting season and chick fledge they will move on. They do return next season, but that may not be an issue for you if the shed is gone next spring.

    Steven/Stevie just turned 8 yrs old and we were talking about him recently.
    Your information provides fantastic research information and on an emotional level, great happiness.

    Tri-State provided the LIVE cam and I spent many many hours watching the pair.
    Courting, mating, egg laid, hatching, fledge and I chased him/them for a year.
    The BEST news in such a long time. THANK YOU – Lynn

  15. I spotted a vulture with a red patch on each wing. Bristol, Tn. It was with about 6 other vultures that had no red markings. Early morning. 6/4/2021

  16. Vulture tagged #26, aka “Stephen Colbert” or “Stevie”, is raising a chick in our backyard shed, which is on Thornhollow Road in the Meadowood development, Newark Delaware. He and his mate, whom we have named “Mamacita”, seem to have torn a hole in our shed roof to enable them to do so. The chick is currently about 9 to 10 inches long and covered with down. Anything anyone can tell me about how to handle this, please let me know! For right now we will leave them be. We have removed our garden tools from the shed, but it is seriously stinky and damaged and we plan to tear it down once they leave….hopefully they will eventually leave???

  17. Vulture tagged #26 (elsewhere named,not by us, Stephen Colbert or “Stevie”) tore a hole on our shed roof and with his mate is raising a baby vulture inside. We have named his mate “Mamacita”.

  18. Beth Monn on may 30 2021 11:00 am in Three Springs Pa. i have had a black vulture with red wing tags they where eating out of my compost bin there was about 6 others with this one couldn’t make out numbers on tag.

  19. beth monn have seen a black vulture with red tags on wings number not visible with about 6 others in our compost pile may 30 2021 11:ooam

  20. Tagged black vulture with red tags on both wings. Number not visible. Seen in Lyndell, Pennsylvania 5/9/2021 with approximately 15 other black vultures.

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