Vultures, through a variety of media, may be seen as birds best known for eating dead animals or carcasses. However, did you know that there are actually tens of bird species out there that share this diet?
In this article, we’ll be showing you 25 species of birds that are known as scavengers, a type of bird that helps clean up the environment and keep their local ecosystems healthy.
1. Black Vulture
Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
Range: Southeast United States, Central America, South America
The Black Vulture is a large raptor that is covered in black plumage with silvery patches on its wingtips, broad, rounded wings, a very short tail, and a small black head. The black vulture lives primarily in forested and open areas, where they’ll breed in the woodlands and forage in open habitats and along roads.
Black vultures feed on roadkill and occasionally in dumpsters. Roadkill usually involves fresh carcasses of large mammals, though they’ll consume decaying meat as well. If the carcasses are large, the black vulture can feed on them for days.
2. Egyptian Vulture
Scientific Name: Neophron percnopterus
Range: Middle East, Southern Europe, Occasionally throughout Africa
The Egyptian vulture is a medium-sized vulture consisting of a bare, yellow face, a narrow bill with a black tip, and black flight feathers with contrasting inner white feathers, which can be seen in flight. The Egyptian vulture is found in open and semi-open areas, where they can be found nesting on cliffs or in trees.
This species scavenges on rubbish dumps and carcasses, with a particular interest in carrion. They are known to use tools, such as rocks or twigs, to reach their meals. They’re also opportunistic birds, eating any small birds, mammals, or reptiles that they can get their claws on.
3. Hooded Vulture
Scientific Name: Necrosyrtes monachus
Range: Central Africa
The hooded vulture is a small vulture covered with brown plumage and consists of a small, pink head with white, fluffy feathers. They also have a narrow, curved beak, blue eye-rings, and a rounded tail plus silvery flight feathers, which can be seen in flight. Preferred habitats include the open country, forest edges, and towns.
The hooded vulture feeds on mussels, lobsters, mollusks, dead fish, grasshoppers, grubs, and locusts. Though easier to find the carcasses than other vulture species, the hooded vulture often finds itself displaced from the carcasses by the larger and more aggressive vultures, hence why their numbers are reducing in size.
4. Griffon Vulture
Scientific Name: Chartura pelagica
Range: Midwestern and Eastern North America, Central America
The griffon vulture is an Old World vulture that consists of a white head, broad wings, and short tail feathers. Its neck ruff is also white, while its bill is a bright yellow.
Their preferred habitats include mountainous terrain, plateaus, shrubland, grassland, and semi-desert areas. Though they prefer warmer climates, the griffon vultures aren’t afraid to seek shelter in harsher conditions where it’s sometimes safer for them to breed or forage.
The griffon vulture feeds on carrion from medium to large mammals, and occasionally on injured or weak cattle and sheep. Unlike some of the other vultures discussed, griffon vultures like to stay away from humans and prefer nesting on high cliffs, which provides them easy access to flight.
5. Turkey Vulture
Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
Range: Southern Canada, United States, Central, and South America
The turkey vulture is a rather large vulture that is covered in dark brown plumage, has a bare red head, and has two-toned underside wings. They’re usually found huddled around roadkill and dumpsters or riding thermals to reach higher ground.
Their diet consists almost entirely of carrion. The carrion that turkey vultures eat can be the flesh of either freshly dead or decomposing animals. As scavengers, turkey vultures rarely go after live prey unless they have no other option or if the prey has been injured in some way.
6. Andean Condor
Scientific Name: Vultur gryphus
Range: The Andes, Southern Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
The Andean condor is a very large vulture that consists of very long “fingers” at the wingtip, a white collar, and big white panels on the upper wing, which are visible when the birds bank. The Andean condor prefers open grasslands and alpine areas, though it will occasionally visit lowlands and desert areas.
Andean condors feed on carrion, mammals, reptiles, other birds, fish, amphibians, and invertebrates, usually in a group. They prefer freshly dead animals above all else and can easily locate them using the condor’s powerful sense of smell.
7. California Condor
Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus
Range: California and the Grand Canyon
The California condor is a very large vulture that is mainly black with a white stripe on the underwing, wingtips that are splayed to appear like fingertips, and an orange head. As a critically endangered species that has just begun to breed in the wild, the California condor is very limited to the coastal hills and mountains around California and the Grand Canyon.
The California condor prefers to feed on medium to large-sized mammal carcasses but will also scavenge on small mammals if they come across them. They prefer freshly dead animals where they can feed on soft tissue.
8. Crested Caracara
Scientific Name: Caracara plancus
Range: Southern United States and South America
The crested caracara is a large and long-legged falcon that consists of a dark cap, pale neck, dark body, a face that can vary in color from orange-red to pale pink, and a grayish bill.
The wings and tail have white undersides that are visible during flight. Their preferred habitats include open fields, deserts, and beaches.
Though they mainly feed on lizards and snakes, the crested caracara is an opportunistic raptor that also feeds on carrion and can even steal from other raptors.
9. Bald Eagle
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Range: North America
The bald eagle is a large and majestic-looking eagle that has a blackish to brown body with a white head and tail. The immatures are less noticeable with dark brown plumage and large patches of white.
Their heads appear large in flight and are projected far in front of the wings. Their preferred habitats include lakes and reservoirs with plenty of fish and surrounding forests. Overall, they prefer staying near any type of water habitat.
The bald eagle is a well-known scavenger that eats not only live fish caught from the water but also dead fish caught by other animals and carrion.
10. African Fish Eagle
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus vocifer
Range: Central and Southern Africa
The African fish eagle is a large eagle that consists of chestnut and white plumage, white windows in the wings (in juveniles), and a pale dark-tipped tail (also in juveniles). Their usual habitats include areas near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and the mouths of rivers and lagoons.
Similar to the bald eagle, the African fish eagle also prefers fish as one of its main food sources; however, it won’t hesitate to consume other birds, reptiles, and carrion. It’ll also steal food from other birds if it gets the chance, hence classifying them as scavengers.
11. Carrion Crow
Scientific Name: Corvus corone
Range: West Europe, Asia
The carrion crow is a large crow with black plumage, a short, rounded beak, and a somewhat short tail (compared to the common raven). Carrion crows are found in open and semi-open habitats such as in towns, farmland, open woodland, and moorland.
All crows are known to scavenge for food, but the carrion crow, in particular, stands out in that it will feed on carrion of all kinds, regardless of its age or where it originated. Besides that, carrion crows also feed on insects, worms, and the occasional seeds and fruit.
12. Great Skua
Scientific Name: Stercorarius skua
Range: West Europe, North Europe, The Arctic, East Coast of North America
The great skua is a seabird that consists of dark brown plumage throughout, pale mottling on the upper parts, and white flashes in the primaries, which are visible in flight.
They are typically found in breeding areas on coastal rocky islands and on moorland, though they’re occasionally spotted around coasts, scavenging from other birds.
The great skua prefers to steal food from other gulls and seabirds, but, unlike the other birds discussed so far, they also actively hunt for their prey.
The great skua is also an opportunistic feeder in that it won’t hesitate to consume any dead animal that it comes across. It’ll also take advantage of injured animals and possibly peck away at them while they’re still alive.
Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
Range: North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Australian coastlines, occasionally in Africa
The Osprey is a large hawk that consists of mostly white plumage, a mostly white head, a large curved bill, and a dark brown back. Their habitat consists of areas near lakes, rivers, and coastal waterways, resulting in a huge abundance of them around the world.
Though ospreys mainly feed on fish, which they can grab using their talons and tear through using their large bills, they’ll eat almost anything they can reach. This includes them staying on piers and feeding on dead bait fish used by fishermen.
14. Blue Jay
Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata
Range: Eastern, Midwest, and Northwestern United States, Southern Canada
The Blue Jay is a brightly colored jay that can be found year-round in eastern North America. It consists of bright blue plumage above, pale gray plumage below, a fluffy crest, a black band around its neck, and black and white markings on the wings and tail.
Their preferred habitats include mature deciduous or coniferous woodlands, but they will also visit the occasional bird feeder, where they’re often aggressive towards other birds.
Being a subpar hunter, the blue jay prefers to forage or scavenge for an easy meal. This means they’re open to feasting on any carrion that’s been killed by accident or by another animal.
15. Greater Roadrunner
Scientific Name: Geococcyx californianus
Range: Southwest United States, Mexico
The greater roadrunner is a large cuckoo that consists of streaky brown plumage, a very long tail, a short, shaggy crest, and iridescent wings and tail. They’re often found in desert habitats with thick vegetation patches, perching on fences or rocks.
The greater roadrunner feeds on large insects, lizards, bird eggs, chicks, and carrion. An opportunistic feeder, the greater roadrunner will feed on just about anything it can catch and uses a variety of feeding methods to consume the prey.
16. Lesser Roadrunner
Scientific Name: Geococcyx velox
Range: Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua
The lesser roadrunner appears as a smaller version of the greater roadrunner but is distinguishable in that the center of its throat and breast are plain rich buffy, and lacks the dark streaks present on the greater roadrunner. Its typical habitats include dry brushy woodland and weedy fields in tropical lowlands and foothills.
Similar to the greater roadrunner, the lesser roadrunner is also an opportunistic feeder that has a diet consisting of seeds, fruit, small reptiles, frogs, large insects, and roadkill. Though a relatively elusive species, the lesser roadrunner can be found foraging along roadsides for roadkill.
17. Snowy Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
Range: Coasts around the Arctic Ocean
The snowy owl is a large owl that consists of mainly white plumage with a varying amount of black markings (older males appear the whitest while juvenile females have a denser dark patterning).
Its habitat includes the arctic tundra and expansive open areas near lakeshores, fields, marshes, piers, and dunes.
The snowy owl has quite an extensive diet consisting of animals such as rabbits, weasels, and ducks, while also being observed to consume carrion from deceased hooved animals.
18. Great Horned Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Range: North America, Central America, South America
The great horned owl is a large species of owl that has distinctive ear tufts and dark brown plumage overall. It can be found in a variety of habitats that contain trees, including, but not limited to, dense woodlands, prairie, and deserts. It can also be found in more suburban areas such as wooded towns and suburbs.
The great horned owl has a diet as extensive as its location, preying on a variety of animals such as mammals, birds, and reptiles. They will also feed on carrion from mainly hooved mammals if other food is scarce.
19. Eurasian Eagle Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo bubo
Range: Europe, Middle East, Asia
The Eurasian eagle owl is a very large owl with distinctive ear tufts, orange eyes, and streaked pale buffy underparts. These owls can be found in a variety of habitats, such as forests and rocky canyons, but are overall not overly abundant in any one location.
Though not as commonly seen as with the previous owl species we’ve discussed, the Eurasian Eagle Owl also feeds on carrion in extremely rare cases. They have been observed feeding on the carrion of hooved animals, such as a sheep/goat, a fallow deer, and a domestic pig, in three breeding grounds in Southeastern Bulgaria.
20. Herring Gull
Scientific Name: Larus argentatus
The herring gull is a large seagull, consisting of a pale gray back, pale eye, dull pinkish legs, and plumage that varies across different subspecies. They are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, where they tend to stay both inland and around coasts, frequently visiting beaches, lakes, and landfills.
The herring gull is omnivorous with a diet that varies between place and season. Overall, their diet consists of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, worms, other birds, and eggs that belong to other birds. Since they visit landfills, you can probably guess that they also scavenge for food waste as well as carrion.
21. Northern Harrier
Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius
Range: North America, Central America
The Northern Harrier is a medium-sized hawk with a long tail, thin wings, a white patch on the rump, gray and white plumage (males), and warm brown plumage (females and juveniles). They can be found flying low over open marshes and fields.
This bird of prey has a diet consisting of nearly anything they can find, such as carrion, lizards, frogs, and insects. Unlike other hawks that tend to kill their prey instantly, the northern harrier prefers to pick them up and drop them from high altitudes, after which it’ll swoop down and tear at them with its sharp beak.
22. Common Buzzard
Scientific Name: Buteo buteo
Range: Europe and Africa
The common buzzard is a large hawk that is present throughout Europe and Africa. They have an overall stocky build with broad wings, a short, square-tipped tail, a pale breast band, and dark tail barring. Their preferred habitats include woodland, forest edges, farmland, moorland, grassland, and any other areas with large trees or woods.
The common buzzard has a diet consisting of about 50% carrion and 50% live prey. During the summer, the common buzzard will sweep down and hunt live animals such as mice and rabbits; however, during the winter, when most animals are hibernating, the common buzzard will feed on dead or decaying animals.
23. Marabou Stork
Scientific Name: Leptoptilos crumenifer
Range: Eastern and Southern Africa
The marabou stork is a very large stock that consists of a huge dagger-like bill, a naked pink head and neck that appears sunburnt, a white ruff, loose skin on the neck, and a white belly that is noticeable during flight. They can be found in wetlands and dry bushes.
The marabou stork can often be found sneaking around carrion that were previously animals killed by larger predators. The marabou stork will carefully sneak scraps away from the carrion and will also visit urban areas where they scavenge around waste dumps.
24. Eurasian Jackdaw
Scientific Name: Corvus monedula
Range: Europe, Western Asia
The Eurasian jackdaw is a small crow that has a silvery-gray neck shawl, white eyes, and duller shawl and eyes for juveniles. They inhabit open and semi-open habitats, including but not limited to towns, woodland, farmland, and sea cliffs. They can also be found in urban areas, specifically around stone buildings and chimneys.
The Eurasian jackdaw, similar to other jackdaws, has a diet composed primarily of seeds, fruit, and invertebrates. They also eat carrion, where they’ll often pick the meat off of roadkill or steal other birds’ eggs.
25. Eurasian Magpie
Scientific Name: Pica pica
Range: Europe, North Asia
The Eurasian magpie is a widespread crow relative with a brightly colored long tail, a pied plumage, a white belly, a white back, and white wing patches that can appear iridescent under good lighting. They can be found anywhere from open and semi-open areas to towns and gardens.
The Eurasian magpie eats just about anything it can get its hands on, including other birds and their eggs, small mammals, acorns, grain, other vegetation, and of course, scraps and carrion. They’re very intelligent hunters in that they can kill prey much larger than themselves by continuously pecking at it until it dies.
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