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 — 333 Comments

  1. Spotted a black vulture with a green wing tag (first time I’ve ever seen a bird of prey with a wing tag) – fun to see! It was tag number 53F. Unfortunately it was too far for a decent photo, but I was able to see the tag number through my binoculars.

    Would love to know where this bird has traveled to or from.

  2. Today, Warden Kreider of Dauphin County rescued the injured Black Vulture #89E. The bird is being taken to Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuykill Haven PA for an evaluation as to why it is unable to fly. Great work Warden Kreider. Excellent job!!

  3. I encountered a large black vulture just resting under a tree along our walking path. As I approached the bird to try and identify, it did not fly off. Sensed the bird is injured and contacted the PAGC. They reported the bird’s location to the local warden and also suggested that I posted the pictures to your website.

    Bird was spotted on the walking path on the former Hershey Foods Admin building at the Corner of Sand Beach Rd and Hershey Park Dr, Hershey PA.

  4. Spotted the same black vulture 3 times with a yellow tag on its left wing#394. In Manchester Ct at the landfill. Last time was on 12/31/2021

  5. On 12/28/21 @ 1220 a black vulture with green tags on both wings with black number 310 was spotted in Davidsonville, MD

  6. On December 23,2021, at 0945, I have seen and took several photos of a black Vulture with green tags (64C) on both wings. at 40.878174,-75.130346, in Evergreen Village located in Mount Bethel, PA 18343
    He was with 5 other vultures.
    I have more photos.
    I would love to hear about the history of this vulture.

  7. We had a vulture and 3 “babies” that came to our house in Parkton, Md. They’ve been eating leftover cat food from a local stray that we feed. Today, 12/8/21, we had 7 fly onto our deck, and it was the first time we spotted one with tags. 46E was on green tags on their wings.

  8. 11-24-21: BLVU seen with green tag 47C in black. Eating a dead skunk with other BLVU. Location: Riverwinds, West Deptford, NJ

  9. A large flock of black buzzards are roosting near my home in Wardensville, WV. Included in that flock are two with red tags that I have been unable to read.

  10. Saw a vulture with green tag 43c. I have a small colony of black vultures that live in trees next to my house. Taylors Bridge Toad Townsend, De

  11. We seen a vulture with a red tag with L42 on its left side couldn’t see the # on the right side it was feeding on a dead deer with other buzzards. It was on the Brownsburg Road, Marlinton, WV

  12. Saw black vulture at the Charles County MD. landfill Saturday Oct. 30th 2021 3:20pm. Green Tag # 58C

  13. I currently have a yellow tagged buzzard with the #102 eating a armadillo here in Meridian, Ms.

  14. Black vulture seen on West 6th street Everett, PA 15537. Red tag, white letters…M63. Have a picture, couldn’t get upload button to work.
    Vulture eating with others in our neighborhood not far from town.

  15. I was in the Monroe county area of WV and I spotted this red wing vulture eating on a deer. I had no idea what king of bird it was because it had red spots on the wing. Today I decide to research it as I took a photo of the bird. LOOK WHAT I FOUND—he is just a normal buzzard that is being tracked. HA HA HA on me.

  16. 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

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