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. Saw a black Vulture with red tags on both wings. (#11) It was near wytheville, VA.

  2. Hi. Saw three today, Monday July 3, 2023 chewing on a fox carcass in Hockessin. They flew up onto the Verizon bldg when i walked over and i could only see one tag. #247.

  3. Black vulture #247 (left wing) spotted grabbing an animal carcass in the middle of Yorklyn Rd in Hockessin,DE. Appears in good health. 6/3/23

  4. The bird with the red tags… Is that “your” bird? I know where that bird is right now. I thought it was something else for a while, but when I saw it on the buzzard house today I got a good look. Red tags make way more sense than red feathers… I searched red winged buzzard and found the picture with the red tags.

  5. Black Vulture observed Sulphur Springs Road, Middletown, VA 22645
    Two green wing tags 34C

  6. Black vulture. Red tag on both sides. I believe it was a 4. Black and turkey vultures feeding together. Zip code 26143, Wirt Co. WV.

  7. At the C&D Canal RR bridge I noticed a vulture or buzzard with the tag number 28F sunning itself with a group of other vultures on the entrance to the bridge on the south side. 4/1/23

  8. Black vulture with green tag #97E in cream ridge,nj 08514..on 3/11/2023. I have a flock around here and usually only 2 come…and then some days there are up to 20.

  9. We’ve had a flock around here in Baltimore county since Dec. A black vulture has a green tag #27E.

  10. I can’t quite make out what the tag says…either 3611 or 36H but I spotted this one today in Northeast MD

  11. I black vulture tag 369 spotted at Wiseburg and York Rd in Parkton MD today 01/20/2023.

  12. Yellow UAL tag on a grey headed vulture (I believe they are also called black vultures) in Brevard County Florida. Contact if you need additional information. 11/22/22

  13. Hello,

    I volunteer at New Jersey nature in Delmont Nj. We are wondering about a black vulture tagged with a Green tag on both wings. It was numbered 57c. It is not injured or anything but me and my buddy were just curious. Thanks so much for everything you guys do.

  14. Seen a vulture with yellow tag number 22A in Jarrettsville Harford county Md on November 27,2022

  15. Saw green band on wing of a Black Vulture, 53E, in Trucksville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, 11-23-2022. Vultures are frequent visitors in our yard. This bird was high up in a dead Ash tree in our yard.

  16. Unable to see numbers or letters but appears to be a tag. Could not get closer due to height and location. Seen on Tanners Ridge Road in Page County, VA about 1/2 mile downhill from boundary to Shenandoah National Park on 11/9/2022.

  17. Saw 2 red tagged ones on Fried Meat Ridge Road, Mineral County WV. I couldn’t see any numbers on the tags. They were in a group of about 5 that were feasting on a dead deer.

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