15 Birds That Eat Dead Animals (Carrion & Scavenger Birds)

Scavenger birds that eat dead animals

When most people think of avians, they don’t immediately picture birds eating dead animals. Yet, many species rely on this unexpected food source for survival.

This behavior might seem off-putting to some, but it’s a natural and vital part of our environment. Without these scavenger birds, the world would be messier and more disease-prone.

In this article, you’ll discover 15 birds that eat dead animals. You’ll also be provided with captivating photos to help you identify them in the wild. Let’s get started!

What Birds Eat Dead Animals?

1. Black Vulture

Black Vulture
Habitat:Savannahs, deserts, plains, woods, foothills, open country
Range:North America, Mexico, South America
Diet:Carrion, sick newborn animals, eggs, rotten fruits, plant-based foods, reptiles
Length:23–27 in (58–69 cm)
Weight:3–5 lbs (1.4–2.3 kg)
Wingspan:53–58 in (135–147 cm)
Lifespan:5–25 years

The Black Vulture has a diet mainly centered around carrion. In fact, these scavengers don’t limit themselves to small remains; they’re known to consume larger carcasses as well.

Yet, note that these birds aren’t picky eaters. Beyond deceased mammals, their meals include sick newborn animals, eggs, and reptiles. They’re also known to feed on rotten fruits and other plant-based foods.

In terms of how they get their food, though, they’re opportunistic creatures. Interestingly, they are not against stealing meals from other bird species, but among their kind, they dine collectively.

The following video shows a wake of Black vultures feeding on a dead animal:

Black Vulture, Gourmet of Corpses | River Fox

These birds are primarily found in North America, Mexico, and South America, and they span habitats from deserts and savannahs to woods and open fields.

Fun Fact: A group of vultures is sometimes called a “wake” due to the similar appearance when they surround a dead body to feed on it.

2. Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow
Habitat:Woodlands, gardens, parks, coastal areas, farmlands, forests
Range:Europe, Asia
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, insects, invertebrates, eggs, small mammals, fish, amphibians
Length:18–21 in (46–53 cm)
Weight:0.9–1.5 lbs (408–680 g)
Wingspan:33.1–39.4 in (84–100 cm)
Lifespan:4–20 years

As its name implies, the Carrion Crow is known to feast on dead animals. These birds can be found across Europe and Asia, which makes them a typical sight in many regions.

With a wide range of habitats, they’re versatile dwellers. They thrive in woodlands, gardens, parks, and farmlands. However, they don’t shy away from human-inhabited areas either.

Specifically, these scavengers frequently visit sites near humans to feed on household waste.

An interesting behavior of Carrion crows is their social dynamics when it comes to securing food, though.

During a bird-watching expedition, I observed an odd scene. Groups of Carrion crows, usually solitary nesters, teamed up. They worked together to intimidate smaller birds and snatch their prey.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk
Habitat:Marshes, rainforests, prairies, deserts, forests, parks, meadows, roadsides
Range:Alaska, Canada, United States
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, reptiles, other birds, small mammals, human leftovers, insects
Length:18–26 in (46–66 cm)
Weight:1.5–3 lbs (680–1361 g)
Wingspan:44–50 in (112–127 cm)
Lifespan:12–28 years

The Red-tailed hawk has a diverse palate, with a notable preference for fish carrion. Yet, they don’t confine themselves to aquatic leftovers. Their diet extends to reptiles, other birds, insects, and even human scraps.

In terms of hunting techniques, these birds primarily identify as perch-hunters. They employ a unique method where they stalk their prey while soaring high in the sky and kiting.

This aerial advantage allows them to spot and swoop down on their target, which showcases their skill and precision in the wild. They also boast sharp talons that help them grip their prey securely.

Often referred to as piratical raptors, Red-tailed hawks boast a wide geographical presence. They travel to Alaska, Canada, and the United States.

Their habitats are just as varied, which encompasses environments like deserts, forests, prairies, and even urban parks and roadsides.

4. Red Kite

Red Kite
Habitat:Open woodlands, valleys, wooded streams, country lanes, savannahs
Range:Europe, Northern Africa
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians
Length:24–26 in (61–66 cm)
Weight:1.7–2.7 lbs (771–1225 g)
Wingspan:69–77 in (175–196 cm)
Lifespan:10–25 years

In general, the Red Kite is no stranger to scavenging. They often consume dead animals, especially those unfortunate enough to meet their end on roadways.

Yet, remember that these raptors’ menu isn’t limited to carrion. They hunt small live mammals, reptiles, and amphibians as well. However, they typically steer clear of anything bigger than rabbits.

Similar to some of their raptor relatives, they predominantly sport exceptional eyesight and agility. Therefore, they rarely face difficulties in locating their next meal.

On another note, the Red kites’ distribution transits across Europe and northern Africa. Open woodlands, valleys, and savannahs are their favored domains, but they also frequent wooded streams and country lanes.

5. California Condor

California Condor
Habitat:Open or semi-open grasslands, woodlands, rocky cliffs, meadows, beaches
Range:North America
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, fish, marine mammals
Length:46–52 in (117–132 cm)
Weight:17–25 lbs (7.7–11.3 kg)
Wingspan:108–115 in (274–292 cm)
Lifespan:45–60 years

The California Condor is unique as the sole scavenger bird species found in California. Naturally, it feeds on dead animal carcasses, but its diet isn’t restricted to just that. It also eats fish and marine mammals.

Given their impressive size, these birds have a distinct advantage when tracking food. They can effortlessly intimidate other birds and predators, ensuring they get a good share of the meal.

However, notable exceptions to this behavior are bears and Golden eagles, which stand their ground against these large condors.

Additionally, their territories stretch across North America, primarily in the Pacific states and South Central regions. They make their homes in woodlands, grasslands, meadows, rocky cliffs, and even seasides.

6. Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara
Habitat:Prairies, cattle ranches, farmlands, scrublands, deserts, open fields, beaches
Range:Southern United States, Central America
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, young animals, eggs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, invertebrates
Length:19.7–25.2 in (50–64 cm)
Weight:1.8–3 lbs (816–1361 g)
Wingspan:65–80 in (165–203 cm)
Lifespan:9–30 years

Generally, the Crested Caracara isn’t a selective feeder. These birds are known for consuming dead animals, regardless of whether the meat is fresh or has started to decay.

However, it should be noted that carrion is just a part of their varied diet; they also munch on young animals, turtle eggs, fish, frogs, reptiles, insects, and worms.

Regarding their methods for obtaining food, these birds are prolific foragers. They’re known to scout their surroundings meticulously and won’t hesitate to snatch up anything edible they come across.

Their bold nature even leads them to taunt other animals, effectively stealing their food.

As their name suggests, these birds are also known for their shaggy crests on top of their flat faces. If you want to know more about other birds with crests in North America, check out this article.

7. Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
Habitat:Along rivers, coasts, bays, lakes, marshes, reservoirs, estuaries
Range:Alaska, Mexico, United States, Canada
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, fish, seabirds, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles
Length:28–40 in (71–102 cm)
Weight:10–15 lbs (4.5–6.8 kg)
Wingspan:66–96 in (168–244 cm)
Lifespan:15–30 years

The Bald Eagle, while known to consume dead animals, primarily relies on a diverse range of prey, from fish and seabirds to small mammals and reptiles. In short, carrion is only a portion of its expansive diet.

Being apex predators, however, these scavengers often find themselves at the top of the food chain when it comes to hunting. Hence, they would not have any trouble with bullies and other threats. They are also equipped with sharp talons to aid them in this purpose.

Plus, they generally stalk prey that are hibernating, so there’s no shortage of food for them.

In terms of habitat, Bald Eagles gravitate towards areas abundant in water. This includes rivers, bays, lakes, marshes, reservoirs, and estuaries.

8. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Habitat:Grasslands, marshes, prairies, cultivated areas, old pastures
Range:North America, Asia, Europe
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, large insects, small mammals, other birds, amphibians, reptiles
Length:16–20 in (41–51 cm)
Weight:0.6–1.3 lbs (272–590 g)
Wingspan:40–47 in (102–119 cm)
Lifespan:12–16 years

During cold winter months, the Northern Harrier turns to dead animals as a significant food source. Still, note that its diet remains versatile throughout the year.

To be specific, it also has an appetite for grasshoppers, ducks, rabbits, amphibians, and reptiles.

With regard to hunting style, though, Northern harriers are distinct. Rather than hunting from a perch like many hawks, these scavenging birds favor searching for prey in open terrains.

They gracefully fly close to the ground — with a blend of buoyant flaps and glides — scanning the area for any movement.

Spread across continents, they find homes in North America, Asia, and Europe. Grasslands and old pastures are their primary habitats, which aligns well with their hunting tactics and dietary preferences.

9. Great-Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Habitat:Woodlots, canyons, streamsides, grasslands, deserts
Range:Central and South America, Mexico
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, amphibians, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, other birds
Length:19–35 in (48–89 cm)
Weight:2.2–3.8 lbs (998–1724 g)
Wingspan:39.8–57.1 in (101–145 cm)
Lifespan:12–30 years

Though it may be surprising to some, the Great-horned Owl is known to eat dead animals regardless of the season. However, it also feasts on amphibians, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and even other birds.

In addition, dominance at the dining table is one of these owls’ notable attributes. They don’t shy away from competition, often using their formidable presence to intimidate rivals and claim their food.

Remarkably, they can take down other large predators as significant as ospreys and Prairie falcons. Their colors that blend well with their environment also allow them to hunt more effectively.

You can further explore how different owl colors help them in sourcing their food in this article.

Concerning habitats, Great-horned Owls comfortably reside in woodlots, along streams, grasslands, and even in the dry stretches of deserts, which makes them one of the most adaptable birds in the world.

10. Raven

Habitat:Coastal cliffs, forests, tundras, farmlands, agricultural fields
Range:North America, Europe, Asia, Africa
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, nesting birds, eggs, fruits, human leftovers, fish, seeds, grains
Length:22–27 in (56–69 cm)
Weight:1.5–3.6 lbs (680–1633 g)
Wingspan:42–48 in (107–122 cm)
Lifespan:10–30 years

Often mistaken for a crow, a raven has a distinct appetite that includes deceased animals. Along with carrion, its diet also features nesting birds, eggs, fruits, human leftovers, and grains.

However, what sets ravens apart is their sharp wit in acquiring food. Primarily, they use their strong beaks to tear objects apart and uncover edible gems. Such intellect has helped them survive across diverse terrains.

In fact, whether it’s forests, farmlands, tundras, or even urban areas in Europe, North America, and Asia, these black-colored birds continue to thrive.

Fun Fact: A group of ravens is called an “unkindness.” This name is attributed to their eerie reputation, and eating dead animals does not help take away their stature of such.

11. Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner
Habitat:Low deserts, brushlands, open woodlands, agricultural areas
Range:United States, Mexico
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, seeds, fruits, small mammals, reptiles, other birds, insects
Length:20–24 in (51–61 cm)
Weight:0.50–0.94 lbs (227–426 g)
Wingspan:16.9–24 in (43–61 cm)
Lifespan:7–8 years

The Greater Roadrunner is a versatile omnivore with a varied diet that includes the remains of dead animals. However, it’s common for them to eat seeds, fruits, reptiles, other birds, and insects as well.

Lacking the sharp talons typical of many predatory birds, these roadrunners use a different approach to catch their prey. They either peck at it or, in a display of raw energy, slam it against the ground or a nearby rock.

These techniques prove effective, which is why these birds are able to thrive in low deserts and brushlands to open woodlands and agricultural areas.

12. Seagull

Habitat:Coastlines of oceans, lakes, bays, rivers
Range:Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, fish, human leftovers, invertebrates, other birds, amphibians, reptiles
Length:11–32 in (28–81 cm)
Weight:1–4 lbs (454–1814 g)
Wingspan:36–47 in (91–119 cm)
Lifespan:8–20 years

The Seagull is a remarkably adaptable feeder, not hesitating to consume carrion. Yet, in its quest for food, it demonstrates various hunting methods.

In the air and on land, for one, these aquatic birds adeptly hawk their prey. On the other hand, when hunting in water, they execute a “plunge-dive” strategy, subsequently bringing their catch to the ground to eat.

However, not satisfied with finding their own meals, Seagulls are also known to be sneaky thieves. They boldly snatch food from unsuspecting sources.

On a different note, with a range covering all continents, including Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, and Europe, Seagulls predominantly populate the coastlines of oceans, lakes, rivers, and bays.

13. Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger
Habitat:Coastal bays, grasslands, tundras, savannahs, near oceans
Range:Arctic Alaska, Canada, Australia, Europe
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, rodents, fish, small birds, insects, eggs
Length:16–21 in (41–53 cm)
Weight:0.8–1 lbs (363–454 g)
Wingspan:36–49 in (91–124 cm)
Lifespan:12–33 years

Closely related to Seagulls, the Parasitic Jaeger is another bird that partakes in the consumption of dead animal carcasses. In addition, their diet includes rodents, fish, small birds, insects, and eggs.

Yet, note that one of the intriguing behaviors of Parasitic Jaegers is their way of getting their meal.

As agile and persistent aerialists, they will chase their prey relentlessly. Often, their target becomes so fatigued or pressured that it gives up its meal or regurgitates its catch, which allows these jaegers an easy feast.

Found in regions such as Arctic Alaska, Canada, Australia, and Europe, these birds adapt to a wide range of habitats. They’re commonly sighted in savannahs, tundras, grasslands, and areas near oceans.

14. Eurasian Magpie

Eurasian Magpie
Habitat:Thickets, mountainsides, parks, meadows, farmlands, woodlands, suburban areas
Range:Africa, Europe, Asia
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, invertebrates, small vertebrates, fruits, seeds
Length:17–18 in (43–46 cm)
Weight:0.4–0.5 lbs (181–227 g)
Wingspan:22–24 in (56–61 cm)
Lifespan:3–21 years

Also called “Pica Pica,” the Eurasian Magpie boasts a diet that includes deceased animals. Yet beyond carrion, these birds have an assorted menu — from invertebrates and small vertebrates to fruits and seeds.

What’s more, their method of sourcing food is quite flexible. As opportunistic feeders, they both hunt their prey and scavenge when the chance arises.

This adaptability ensures they always have something to feed on, no matter the situation.

Regarding habitat, Eurasian magpies can be found across continents, from Africa and Europe to Asia. They thrive in many environments, such as thickets, mountainsides, parks, meadows, and even suburban areas.

Eurasian Magpies are very easy to spot due to their black upper parts and white stripes on their wings. Here is a list of other birds with the same black plumage and adorned with white wing stripes.

15. Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork
Habitat:Swamps, open dry savannahs, grasslands, riverbanks, 
Range:Sub-Saharan Africa
Diet:Dead animal carcasses, fish, reptiles, insects, nestling birds, eggs, scraps
Length:44–60 in (112–152 cm)
Weight:10–20 lbs (4.5–9.1 kg)
Wingspan:84–156 in (213–396 cm)
Lifespan:25–41 years

Identifiable by its naked throat, the Marabou Stork is yet another bird with a penchant for dead animals. However, while carrion is a staple in their diet, this isn’t their sole source of nutrition.

In addition to consuming carcasses, these birds ingest a wide range of foods, including fish, frogs, lizards, insects, nestling birds, and eggs. They even eat scraps and feces when they find nothing else to devour.

Remarkably, Marabou Storks can gulp down nearly two pounds of meat in just one swallow. This is an incredible feat; it shows how much energy they have to devote to eating.

Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, these scavengers frequent a mix of environments: swamps and riverbanks to open dry savannahs and grasslands.

So, what are your thoughts about birds that eat dead animals? Do you view them differently now? Feel free to share your opinions or ask your questions in the comments below!

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