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Nebraska’s Third Black Vulture


A rare black vulture found at Merganser Lake. Photo by Steve Kruse.

By Joel Jorgensen

Spring is a period when many birds are on the move. This means it is a great time of year for birders to be on the lookout for rarities or vagrants. A rarity is a bird that usually appears somewhere outside of its normal range. Finding a rarity sometimes requires special effort, but other times, it’s just luck.

On April 26, birder and photographer Steve Kruse discovered a vulture on the ground at Merganser Recreation Area in southwestern Lancaster County. As he drove up, the bird did not fly immediately as expected but remained on the ground and posed for a few close-up shots. The bird’s appearance also did not appear to match the expected species, the turkey vulture. After some study, Kruse determined that the bird at Merganser Lake was in fact a black vulture. Tom White, another birder, also submitted photos of a black vulture the same morning.

Although a black vulture may not be the most attractive find, its occurrence in the state is notable. There are only two other accepted records of this species in Nebraska. Those two records are separated by a century: the first was in 1916 and the second in 2017.

Black vulture is common over much of the southern United States and all the way down to southern South America. Its numbers have increased, and its range has expanded steadily to the north in recent decades. The black vulture regularly occurs as close to Nebraska as central Missouri, and although rare, a black vulture in Nebraska is not unexpected. It is reasonable to assume that black vulture records in our state will occur more frequently in the future as this species continues to increase in numbers and move north. More information about the black vulture can be found online at Birds of Nebraska: Birds.OutdoorNebraska.gov/black-vulture.  ■

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.