ABSTRACT

Scavenger birds are common species frequently associated with open habitats, but sympatric vulture species have differing natural history traits that may influence seasonal habitat relationships and responses to natural disturbances, such as hurricanes. We evaluated seasonality and habitat relationships of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) at sites within and outside the path of maximum winds of Hurricane Patricia in western Mexico. We used 1.5-km line transects to survey vultures during dry and rainy seasons in four habitats of the tropical dry forest biome over a 2-yr period after hurricane landfall. We measured habitat structure along each transect using the point-centered quarter method, and determined landscape composition within a 3000-ha circular plot centered around the mid-point of each transect. Vulture abundance was influenced by habitat structure variables of open areas, but at sites affected by hurricane disturbance vulture abundance was positively associated with increased cover of wetlands and agricultural land. Both species of vultures had low abundance in forests, and Black Vultures had significantly higher abundance in agricultural land and wetlands. Season significantly influenced vulture abundance by habitat: agricultural land and wetlands had higher vulture abundance in the rainy season, but forests had higher abundance in the dry season. Disturbance by a major hurricane induced species-specific changes in spatial-temporal abundance of vultures: the Black Vulture in particular had higher abundance in all habitats except wetlands during the dry season, and greater abundance in the first months after hurricane landfall. Hence, although vultures occur predominantly in open areas, they show species-specific habitat associations and responses to hurricane disturbance.

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