Overall, it is black with brownish tones, especially on the feather edges. Legs are dark to pinkish in color, the head unfeathered. Adult: the red skin color of the head contrasts with the ivory bill and dark feather ruff on the neck. Juvenile: the skin of the head is dark, the bill dark with a pale base. Flight: a large dark bird that flies with its wings held in a noticeable dihedral. Usually rocks side-to-side, especially in strong winds. Underneath, the silvery secondaries contrast with the black primaries and wing coverts, giving a two-toned look to the wing. The tail is relatively long.
Geographic Variation Edit
Three subspecies are found in North America (aura, meridionalis, septentrionalis). Only a few minor differences in size and overall tone separate them.
Similar Species The black vulture has a quicker, shallow flap, shorter tail, and obvious white patches at the base of the primaries on its shorter, broader wings. The zone-tailed hawk and golden eagle will mimic the wing dihedral when hunting, and dark-morph Swainson’s hawks and rough-legged hawks also can fly in a dihedral, but at closer range all have feathered heads and different wing shapes. Zone-tailed also shows banded tail and yellow cere and legs.
Status and Distribution Year-round in southern United States, migrates into northern United States and Canada. Breeding: nests on the ground, using a shallow cave, hollow log, or thick vegetation. Migration: northern populations migratory, some heading to Canada. Winter: increasing numbers in snowbound states. Vagrant: to Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland.