Last week while birding in Orwell, my friend and I spotted three dark birds spiraling up on a thermal. With their black heads, and underwings with silver primaries, and short wedge-shaped tail we were able to immediately identify them as Black Vultures. These birds are becoming an increasingly common sight in the Champlain Valley with a possible turning point for considering them them common rather than vagrants coming last year when a group of them overwintered in the Ticonderoga, NY area. Several recent sightings in the Middlebury area centered around the college’s composting site on South St. are also intriguing. eBird maps taken in five year intervals shows very clearly the increase in Black Vulture sightings in the northeast.
Black Vultures are a very successful species, ranging from the eastern United States all the way down to all but the southernmost reaches of Argentina and Chile. The northern limit of their range is believed to be very temperature dependent. They are generally not found overwintering in areas where the January average low dips below -1° C. As climate change progresses suitable temperatures for Black Vultures will creep further north increasing the potential for more sightings of them in our region. National Audubon’s climate change report page for Black Vultures has an animated map showing their likely increase in range.
So far as I know there are no reports of them nesting this far North, but that is something we may also see in the not too distant future.
– Ron Payne