- Very local and likely increasing
“It is a foul carrion feeder, even more so than the Turkey Vulture. Carrion, offal, ordure, and filth attract it.” – Edward Howe Forbush, The Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States
Black Vultures have not historically been associated with Massachusetts. Instead, these birds have long been one of the common scavengers throughout most of Central and South America, as well as in the Southern United States. Black Vultures are still a rare sight in Massachusetts compared with the familiar Turkey Vultures, but these canny clean-up crews are not ones to pass up a fresh, or rotten, meal wherever it appears. Their preference for nesting in difficult-to-reach rock- and boulder-strewn talus slopes or outcrops makes them a hard species to confirm, but an increasing presence in southwestern Massachusetts is suggestive of regular nesting.
Historic StatusThe first Black Vulture identified in Massachusetts was shot in Swampscott in November of 1850. The second appeared in Gloucester on September 28, 1863, where it, too, was killed (Howe & Allen 1901). Throughout the next century, the bird was considered an accidental straggler in Massachusetts; and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the species was on the move from its deep Southern roots, breeding in southern Maryland for the first time in 1922 (Court 1924) and in Pennsylvania by 1952 (Brauning 1992).
Atlas 1 DistributionThis species was not recorded in Atlas 1 (1974-1979), but in June of 1998, Norman Smith discovered a nest on a rocky ledge in the Blue Hills, Milton, where adult Black Vultures had been regularly seen soaring for some time previously (Petersen & Meservey 2003). Unlike the events during the species’ earlier forays into the state, these birds nested without disturbance, and the first Black Vulture known to have hatched in Massachusetts took flight on August 2. In the years following, Black Vultures became more common as summer visitors, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeIn Atlas 2 Black Vultures continued to be observed in the southwestern reaches of the state, primarily in the southern Marble Valleys and the Lower Berkshire Hills, with a handful of other sightings east through the Coastal Plains. Black Vultures evaded Confirmation during the Atlas period, but they were almost certainly breeding somewhere in western Massachusetts during that time.
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||0||0||0||4||10.3||33.3||4||10.3|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||0||0||0||2||6.5||16.7||2||7.4|
|Connecticut River Valley||0||0||0||1||1.5||8.3||1||2.1|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||0||0||0||1||1.3||8.3||0||0.0|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||0||0||0||2||0.7||16.7||2||0.9|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Cape Cod and Islands||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|