Black vulture, rarely spotted in Canada, rescued in New Brunswick

A wildlife rehabilitation shelter in southeastern New Brunswick has taken in a black vulture for the first time.

The bird is common in southern parts of the United States, but rarely spotted in Canada.

The species is frequently sighted in warmer climates from the central U.S. down to South America. But birders have located the occasional black vulture in New England and some areas near the Canadian border in recent years.

The bird is now recovering at the Atlantic Wildlife Institute in Cookville, N.B., about 65 kilometres southeast of Moncton.

Pam Novak, director of wildlife care, said the arrival of the bird as the first animal of the new year was a bit of a surprise. Only a few are observed in the province each year.

“The sightings that we have here are becoming a bit more frequent, but they’re not something you see every day, for sure,” she said.

The wildlife centre received calls from Moncton residents. They spotted the vulture while out for a New Year’s Day walk on a trail near the Mountain Woods Golf Course in the city’s north end. 

The black vulture’s claws. (Submitted by Atlantic Wildlife Institute)

Novak said the walkers saw the bird trying to fly but going straight up and down. They were able to catch it and drive it to the wildlife shelter.

“It has a very severe eye injury and we’re not quite sure if their eye is even still functioning or if the eye is even still in there,” she said. “We’re going to have to get that addressed and in the next couple of days we’ll have that looked at more intensely.”

Black vultures frequently travel in flocks with turkey vultures, a species that went from rare to common in New Brunswick over the past 30 years. 

The bird has a bald black head so parasites won’t stick when it eats dead and rotting animals, while turkey vultures have red heads. The black vultures also have a shorter tail and are overall darker and stockier in appearance.

A black vulture was last seen on the province’s north shore near Dalhousie. They tend to appear in marshes, fields and other open habitats.

Black vultures have darker-coloured features compared to the more common turkey vulture. (Submitted by Atlantic Wildlife Institute)

Novak said sightings in the Maritimes and other parts of southern Canada have become more frequent in recent years, although they are still rare.

“It might be because of climate change and availability of food that they’re expanding their range as numbers are stabilizing,” she said. 

“It was almost unheard of when we first started operating that we would see a turkey vulture, and now that’s a pretty common occurrence.”

The bird, which weighs about two kilograms, is resting at the wildlife centre and will receive treatment.


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