Coragyps atratus Order: Accipitriformes Family: Accipitridae
With regard to their availability and suitability as ambassador animals:
- Hooded vultures are an SSP species so if you are an AZA zoo it is recommended that you first contact the SSP coordinator.
- With good training, this species can be reliable in both flighted and non-flighted situations.
- Due to their natural history and social dynamics, vultures can be more disposed to lunging and biting if they feel threatened, they are not “easy” birds to manage and require experienced handlers.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Sub-Saharan Africa. Can be found in a variety of habitats, including near human habitations. They seem to be found in conjunction with Diospyros mepiliformis and Xanthocercis zambiaca, are both heavily leafed tree, in southern Africa.
Like all vultures, hooded vultures play an important role as scavengers. By consuming carcasses of deceased animals, they prevent the spread of disease. Their digestive system effectively neutralizes pathogens such as (but not limited to) cholera, botulism, rabies, polio, and anthrax.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- This species can be successfully managed on a variety of substrates, such as pea-gravel, sand, dirt, grass.
Social Housing/Colony Management
- Hooded vultures are a gregarious species and do well (better) when housed with conspecifics rather than alone. When housing birds in groups attention should be paid to individual preference and birds should be afforded enclosure space large enough to be separate from each other, should they choose.
Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Multiple perching options are necessary to maintain good foot health.
- Space should meet minimum USFW standards for similarly sized vulture species (such as black or turkey vultures).
- Enclosure be constructed with materials that reduce the possibility of damage to the feathers or to the bird itself (for example, bare wire mesh is less desirable than vertical bars or coated mesh).
- Flight-capable individuals need flight exercise to maintain muscle mass.
- A double door mew entrance is ideal for any flighted bird. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure safely and without incident.
Diet in the Wild
- These birds are scavengers, they are opportunistic but feed predominantly on the carcasses of small to medium-sized mammals and birds.
Diet under human care
- Under human care black vultures do well on a varied diet, including such items as mice, rats, rabbit, chicks, quail, fish, beef heart and liver, commercial bird of prey diet.
- Dietary amounts will vary by individual. Larger and more active individuals requiring higher caloric intake than smaller or inactive individuals. Diet amounts required will also vary seasonally. Understanding the individual requirements of your bird for optimal weight and health should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Provision of whole prey on occasion is valuable for both enrichment and beak maintenance.
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- Vultures can be playful. They also appear to gain some intrinsic satisfaction from the act of ripping and tearing.
- Changing perches within their habitat.
- Addition of browse.
- Puzzle feeders work well as do any objects they can tug or carry such as browse. They will ingest random objects so use care when choosing enrichment items.
- Daily enrichment is recommended.
Other Enrichment Resources
- AZA’s Raptor TAG has a comprehensive list of raptor-appropriate enrichment as well as other suggestions on raptor enrichment programs on their website.
- Behaviors Trained
- Voluntary step-up to glove
- Voluntary loading into crate
- Voluntary scale
- A-B flights
- Walking with trainers
- Calm behavior on glove
- Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
- This species takes well to positive reinforcement training using its daily diet to reinforce behavior.
- Using food and/or weight management as part of a good behavioral management program facilitates training by creating a learning environment in which vultures want to participate. Training strategies that involve reducing food offered to the point of compromising the health of the bird are considered unacceptable. Food management and weight management practices that are safe for the bird and trainers, provide for the health and welfare of the bird, and facilitate training are recommended.
- Food and or weight management should be done with an understanding of the process and considerations. The decision to use weight management should not be taken lightly nor undertaken at all by staff who do not have a comprehensive understanding of managing weight and diet.
Colony or Breeding Management
The Raptor TAG has created an entire vulture education guide, as well as provides information about the African Vulture Crisis via the Vulture SAFE page.
Threats and Conservation Status
- Hooded vultures were recently upgaded to Critically Endangered, vultures in general are the most imperiled group of birds on the planet with more than 70% of species threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.
- African Vulture Crisis- African Vulture SAFE
- While the digestive system of vultures is highly resistant to bacteria and viruses, they are extremely susceptible to poisons and toxins. One of the leading killers of vultures is accidental or intentional poisoning. Sharing information aimed to reduce toxins in their environment (such as switching from lead ammunition and not using rodent bait) are valuable ways to help wild vultures.
Interesting Natural History Information
Depending on where in Africa they are located, they can be found in pairs, living singly, or forming loose colonies. They are carrion eaters like most vultures. When excited their white faces turn red and they vocalize in a high pitched squeal.
Did you know…
Handling & Presentation Tips
- This species may be presented on glove, on perch, or in free-flight demonstrations. Due to their activity budget and the fact that their feet pose no safety risk to handlers (or other animals) like those of raptors traditionally managed with falconry equipment (hawks, eagles, falcons, owls), the use of falconry equipment is neither recommended nor necessary when handling black vultures. Their natural behavior does not lend to tethering.
- Zoo Atlanta uses its in hooded vulture in free-flight demonstrations; on a “vulture walk” (where trainers release him from a kennel a distance away from our bird theater and we walk with him through the zoo. He is reinforced every 10-30 feet as long as he stays on the ground and within an arm length of one of the trainers on the walk with him. We utilize interns and non-trainer staff for crowd control to clear the path ahead and not allow guests to follow too closely behind); and for Animal Encounters (where he is given a large rib bone and reinforced for pulling the ligaments and small pieces off of it. We use one trainer to focus on him and a second trainer to talk with guests about their adaptations and status).
Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Public contact with this species is not advisable.
- Touching is not advisable.
- Transport box suggestions: Varikennel.
- A couple things to keep in mind, crates should not be carried by the handle, but rather using two hands on either side of the crate and supporting it adequately. Swinging transport crates around and or moving them on a bumpy cart may create negative association for the bird, due to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.
- This species can be trained to voluntarily enter a crate either from the glove or directly from their enclosure. Continuous reinforcement of voluntary crate behaviors as well as dedication to their comfort and safety while in the crate is important to maintaining solid and reliable crate behavior.
- Being natural inhabitants of warmer climates, care should be taken when temperatures drop below freezing. When transporting and using on programs, attention should be paid to the comfort of the individual and any signs of heat distress responded to accordingly.
- This is an SSP species so if you are an AZA zoo it is recommended that you first contact the SSP coordinator.
- Raptor TAG
- IAATE Position Statements https://iaate.org/position-statement/position-statements
- Food Management and Weight Management 2019
- Tethering and the Use of Jesses 2019
- EAZA Falconiformes TAG:Husbandry and Management Guidelines for Demonstration Birds
Contributors and Citations
- Zoo Atlanta
Comments from the Rating System
Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species