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 — 332 Comments

  1. Saw a Black turkey vulturew Feding on road kill in Ijamsville MD green tag 14F 5/12/2022 12:37pm with several others.

  2. I saw these birds stalking a baby calf on our farm in Keedysville, MD. These birds have scared away all the good red headed vultures who only prey on carion while the black headed ones prey on vulnerable creatures.

  3. Friday April 29,2022 about 6:00 pm. Saw about at least 40-50 of these Black Vultures. At their same location in Pine Grove,Pa. Was able to make out a green tag 17F which I had seen before. Also was able to make out 25E green. New one. Seen about 4 other green tagged ones, but I couldn’t make out the numbers and 2 yellow tags, but couldn’t make them out either. The one yellow tag one was in a fuss with 2 others that were not tagged. We enjoy seeing them. Some of them have 2 tags per vulture. Others only 1 tag. I must get a stronger pair of Binoculars.

  4. Saw one black vulture with two green tags one in each wing marked 89F. Waldorf, MD.

  5. Green Tag (Left Wing) 24E
    Along the Susquehanna River with many not appearing to be tagged and a few that were, however, could not read other tags, York County

  6. Red tag number 57 or 37. Could not read it well. Spotted on April 21 at noon in Sparta, North Carolina on Collins Drive.

  7. Number 396 was seen at at Conowingo Dam’s Fisherman’s Park in Darlington, DE on 4/14/2022.

  8. Green Tag (Left Wing) 33E
    Along the Susquehanna River with many not appearing to be tagged, York County

  9. April 15, 2022.. Been a few days ,but went to see the vultures again. Seen about 6 tagged ones. A couple tags I just couldn’t make out, because they were to far away. Did see a yellow tag # 398. Saw that one before. Saw another yellow tag but couldn’t make out the #…New green tag numbers I was able to see were 73H , 52A , 17F , 28L…

  10. April 11, 2022.. About 6:00pm… Saw quite a few black vultures again. Minimum of 40 maybe 50. Some were roosting in trees. Others still on the ground. They were at the same spot as my other 2 comments. Pine Grove area in Schuylkill county. This time I spotted 2 with green tags. The one I couldn’t make out , the other was 80E…..Also saw a different one with a yellow tag # 379…

  11. April 9, 2022. Drove past the Vulture hangout again in the area of Pine Grove, Pa. Schuylkill County. Loads of vultures this late afternoon. Upwards of 40-50. How many of them were eating a duck on the road that had been hit. Spotted one today with a yellow tag #398 . I’ll keep watching.

  12. April 8, 2022. We have been seeing a BIG flock of these Black Turkey Vultures for over 2 months already. Usually always see at least 20, but can be upwards of 40 or even alittle more. Most are the Black Turkey Vultures but there are also some with the red heads. We noticed 2 of the Black ones have green tags. We made out the one green tag number 86C., the other one was to far away. We see them frequently in the Pine Grove area Schuylkill County. They almost seem like pets. Not very scared. They sit everywhere from top of buildings to in the trees to on the ground. Even seen them taking a bath in the creek and pond. I’ll keep watching.

  13. 53A Green tag, both wings spotted on Trail Road, Grantville/Hummelstown PA. Enjoying a delicious VERY dead and decayed racoon. Likely the same racoon I saw weeks ago that looked very sick.

  14. Spotted number 16H green tag with other birds in backyard. Mifflintown,PA. 3/26/22, in the AM.
    Have large number of vultures roosting on property.

  15. This buzzard spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get a drink of water from my winterized pool. Hope he found the nearby river. Green tag 46E. There was another untagged bird waiting for this one to give up on the pool and leave.

  16. Saw green tag 278 or 27E on a black vulture 6pm 3/10/2022 on Greenway Rd Cockeysville Maryland./ have a nice photo of it if necessary. Any info about it is appreciated. Thanks

  17. Two with lime green tags in Enola, pa. #09C & 56A, They look healthy. 3-6-2022.

  18. Saw black vulture #249 Jan. 9th 2022 on the side of Lancaster Pike in Delaware, eating deer road kill with a flock of about 6 others, untagged

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