Misconceptions and Realities: Are Vultures Dangerous?

Vultures are passive birds that usually fly away when threatened. They may hiss, growl, or vomit to protect themselves from perceived dangers.

Jul 17, 2023By Colt Dodd
are vultures dangerous

While vultures spend most of their time beak-deep in carcasses, fear not: they are not dangerous. Vultures are scavengers, meaning they feast on roadkill and other dead animals. They usually choose flight over fight when possible.

Still, a vulture may defend itself when it feels threatened. For instance, it may vomit bile to ward off predators. Yet, in most cases, they’re harmless.

Vultures Are Not Dangerous

a grey vulture up close
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Vultures don’t pose a threat to humans for the following reasons:

They’re Fairly Small

Per the Missouri Department of Conservation, a vulture generally weighs around four pounds. Although they have six-foot-long wingspans, these are not for attacking. Instead, they allow vultures to hover around rotting carcasses and ride the wind’s currents.

Their Beaks Aren’t for Attacking

Consider the turkey vulture. They have curved beaks that are ideal for tearing away strips of flesh from animals’ carcasses. They are not ideal for taking down prey and attacking people.

It’s Not in Their Nature

Vultures aren’t aggressive. They’re fairly passive, choosing to feed on the scraps of leftover kills. However, they will attempt to fight back when cornered or threatened. Still, even a scratch from a turkey vulture generally doesn’t warrant a hospital visit.

How Do Vultures Defend Themselves?

turkey vulture sitting outside
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fun fact: unlike other birds, vultures don’t have a syrinx. This means they don’t squawk, crow, or chirp. Instead, they growl, hiss, or snarl to ward off threats. If this doesn’t work (and flying away isn’t an option), a vulture may:

  • Induce vomiting. Per the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, vultures may vomit a potent stomach acid to momentarily stun predators or dissuade them from attacking. This also helps them “lighten the load,” allowing them to fly away easily.
  • Scratch. As noted, a vulture may scratch when it feels threatened. Yet, according to Avian Report, vultures’ claws aren’t meant for attacking. They’re flat and incapable of grasping objects. This is unlike eagles and other birds of prey that have talons meant for attacking.
  • Peck. While getting pecked by a vulture won’t do much damage, one should still clean the wound if it breaks the skin. The bacteria in a vulture’s beak could cause a nasty infection, leading to fevers, inflammation, and pain.
a vulture flying against a blue sky
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So, why doesn’t a vulture have a lot of attack moves in its arsenal? In addition to not needing to kill prey, they also don’t have many predators. While a desperate wolf may try to hunt down an unsuspecting vulture, these dour-looking birds generally aren’t first on the menu.

A vulture may attack if:

  • Someone’s near its nest. Vultures are devoted parents, usually tending to about two chicks at a time. Vultures will fight tooth and nail (claw and beak?) if their young face peril.
  • If it’s desperate for food. A vulture can go more than two weeks without eating. Past that point, however, it may prioritize survival above all else. That doesn’t mean it’ll hunt; it just means it may act aggressively toward others near a carcass.

Vulture attacks are few and far in-between. Some sources report that there are no records of vultures attacking humans unprovoked or even carrying off small animals.

Considerations if Faced with a Vulture in the Wild

portrait of a turkey vulture
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

If someone comes face-to-face with a vulture, there’s no need to panic. They can likely escape the situation unscathed by:

  • Making loud sounds. Vultures are naturally averse to some sounds that other birds make in nature. Imitating a crow is a great way to send a vulture packing.
  • Appearing larger. Most animals think twice about attacking things larger than them. Vultures are no exception. What’s more, vultures are only about two-and-a-half-feet tall, so it’s not hard to appear bigger.
  • Walking away. Vultures aren’t pursuit predators. They don’t chase people or animals. They’re opportunistic feeders that chow down on remains.

If someone has a serious fear of vultures, they should also learn what areas to avoid. For instance, vultures generally feed on carcasses in open areas that are easily accessible by birds. So, when walking on a forested trail, one probably won’t see any vultures. Still, rather than living in fear of these baldheaded birds, it’s important to note that vultures aren’t dangerous. They’re just going about their business like everyone else.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vultures

a commission of vultures eating
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Are Vultures the Same as Buzzards?

Vultures and buzzards are two different species, yet they do have similarities. For instance, buzzards will also feed on dead or dying animals––but they also rely on hunting live prey using their razor-sharp talons. Vultures solely thrive on decaying matter, and they are not equipped to be effective hunters.

How Can Homeowners Keep Vultures Off Their Property?

The best way to ward off vultures is to make sure there are no animal carcasses. This means promptly disposing of dead birds, rodents, and other organisms.

Other considerations include:

  • Installing spikes on ledges to prevent vultures from roosting
  • Putting netting over communal areas, like swimming pools
  • Consulting an animal removal specialist
  • Using speakers that emit birds sounds

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary notes that vultures are partial migrants, meaning that they sometimes travel to different parts of the country depending on the weather. So, if there’s a committee of vultures around someone’s home, chances are, they’ll leave within a few days.

What Should Someone Do if Attacked by a Vulture?

If someone gets attacked by a vulture, they should:

  • Clean the wound with soap and water
  • Apply triple antibiotic periodically
  • Keep the area covered
  • Monitor the wound for any signs of inflammation or infection
  • Visit a healthcare provider if the condition worsens
Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.