Have you ever noticed birds chirping happily after they’ve eaten something rotten or decomposing? They seem to enjoy the smell of rotting meat, especially during winter, and I’m sure you don’t want to miss out on these birds.
Birds are omnivores and feed on both plants and animals. Some bird species even specialize in feeding only on animal flesh, such as insects, worms, crustaceans, and decaying animal matter.
Here are 30 species of birds that feed exclusively on dead animals. From crows to vultures, these clever creatures are true opportunists who choose to live off of the leftovers of other animals.
30 birds that eat dead animals you need to know
1. African Fish Eagle
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus Vocifer
Size: The African fish eagle is a giant bird that lives in Africa. It can reach up to 3 feet tall and weigh up to 18 pounds.
Color: This large bird has dark brown feathers with white spots. Its head is black, and it has yellow eyes.
Diet: It is one of many animals that eats dead animals. These birds are scavengers and eat carrion, including dead animals. They feed primarily on fish, but they also feed on mammals like mice and rats. They will eat anything else that falls into its mouth. In fact, the bird once ate a whale carcass.
Location: Africa (mainly Kenya)
Habitat: Savannahs, grasslands, and deserts
2. Bald Eagle
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The bald eagle is a scavenging bird found in the United States and Canada. This species is known for being one of the most recognizable birds in the world. They are typically seen soaring high above the water, looking for food.
Size: Bald eagles have an average length of 5-6 inches and weigh between 2 and 4 pounds.
Color: The Bald eagle has a grayish-white body and a long tail. Its wings are light blue, and a distinctive crest mostly covers its head.
Diet: Some people even think that eagles eat snakes because they often find dead snakes near nest sites. However, there are no scientific studies that show that eagles do eat snakes. The truth is that eagles usually feed on fish, small mammals like rabbits, squirrels, mice, and voles, and marine mammals like seals and sea lions.
There are many myths about eagles eating snakes. Some people believe that eagles eat snakes because they see dead ones around their nests. Others think that eagles kill snakes because they want to protect their chicks. Still, others think that eagles eat live snakes because they are trying to train their young to hunt. But none of those theories are true. Eagles don’t eat snakes, and they certainly don’t eat them just for fun.
Location: North America
Habitat: Seacoasts, marshes; coniferous or hardwood, Chesapeake Bay; Mangrove swamps, the shorelines of lakes and rivers.
3. Black Kite
Scientific Name: Milvus migrans
This bird is a member of a group called “Kites”, which includes the martial eagle, fish eagle, red kite, and others. All are members of the Accipitridae family. They are very similar in appearance; most people cannot tell them apart without seeing them in flight.
Size: They are medium-sized birds with long tails and sharp talons. Their wingspan ranges from 2–2.5 feet.
Color: They are named for the dark coloration on their bodies, especially their heads. They are known for their distinctive black head pattern, which consists of a white face surrounded by a thick black ring.
Diet: They are known for being very aggressive towards humans. They are often seen flying over farms and eating dead animals. They are considered a pest because they eat farm animals and crops. These birds are also called “kites” because they resemble the shape of a kite. Another name for them is “Australian Hawk”.
Habitat: Wetlands, river edges, coasts, grassland, open savannas, shrubland, and woodlands, to large cities.
4. Black Vulture
Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
The Black Vulture is a bird of prey native to the Americas. This species is known as the “Black Vulture,” and it is one of the most giant vultures in the world. There are about 10 different subspecies of Black Vulture.
Size: It can grow up to 8.5 feet tall and weigh more than 100 lbs.
Color: It is brown with a yellow beak and legs.
Diet: This bird is known as a scavenger and eats dead animals. When they hunt, it is mainly for food, although some reports of them hunting small animals like lizards and rodents. They tend to fly low over the ground, searching for dead bodies.
Location: Central and South America
Habitat: Inhabits dry forests, scrublands, and deserts.
Scientific Name: Buteo buteo
Buzzards are a type of scavenger bird that can be found throughout the world. They are known to be one of the few birds that hunt above and underground. They are also often considered among the most intelligent animals because of their ability to use tools such as sticks and stones to find food.
They are called “buzzards” because they make a buzzing sound while flying. This noise helps them find food.
Size: Buzzards are large birds with a wingspan of about 2.5 meters. The largest species of buzzard is the European Griffon Vulture. These vultures can grow up to 3 feet long and weigh about 12 pounds.
Color: Most buzzards are dark-colored with a white underbelly. However, some species have been spotted with bright colors like orange or blue.
Diet: Their diet consists primarily of small mammals, reptiles, insects, and carrion, but they eat some plants too.
Location: Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia.
Habitat: Buzzards live all around the world except Antarctica. They prefer habitats with lots of trees and bushes.
Scientific Name: Caracara
The caracara is a species of large falcon found in tropical regions of South America. They live in flocks called caracaras. Their name is derived from the Portuguese word caraço, meaning “raven”. These birds are larger than most other members of the Falconidae family, and they are often confused with vultures due to their similar size and habits.
Size: They are medium-sized raptors, measuring about 40 cm long and weighing around 4 kg.
Color: A caracara’s plumage is mostly black and white. Their heads are black, while their underparts are bright orange. They have hooked beaks and dark bands across their eyes.
Diet: Caracaras are known to be opportunistic feeders, eating whatever they can find. They are sometimes called “bandits” because they steal food from other animals. They are particularly fond of small rodents such as agoutis and pacas.
They are most commonly seen scavenging on the floor, picking up scraps of food left behind by larger predators. They also eat fruits, seeds, nuts, insects, and even garbage.
Location: South America
Habitat: Grasslands, deserts.
7. Common Raven
Scientific Name: Corvus corax
Size: Ravens are medium-sized birds, ranging between 10 inches (25 centimeters) and 15 inches (38 centimeters). They are slightly smaller than crows and much bigger than jays.
Color: Black, slightly green to blue-violet.
Diet: This bird eats anything, including garbage, roadkill, carrion, and even small rodents. They are often seen around dumps and will also eat roadkill, garbage, and insects.
Location: North America
Habitat: Forest edges, parks, gardens, farmland, etc.
Scientific Name: Vultur gryphus
Size: The Andean condor is one of the most majestic birds in the Americas. They can grow up to ten feet long and weigh up to thirty pounds.
Color: Adult males are mainly brownish gray, with a pale head and neck. Females are more colorful, being either light gray or yellowish-gray. Juveniles are usually duller than adults.
Diet: Condors are scavengers, eating the carrion left behind by other predators like eagles, hawks, and owls. They rarely hunt prey directly; they prefer to wait patiently for their meals to fall into their open mouths. A single adult condor might eat up to 300 pounds of meat annually.
Location: South America
Habitat: Forests, grasslands, mountains, etc.
9. Eastern Imperial Eagles
Scientific Name: Aquila Heliaca translates into “eagle of the sun.”
Size: They are the giant eagle in the world, reaching up to six feet tall and weighing over forty pounds.
These impressive birds have long, hooking beaks that allow them great ease in tearing through the flesh of dead creatures. Their sharp claws give them the strength to hold onto carcasses while they feed.
Color: Its body is covered in dark brown feathers with white spots and streaks. Adults are mostly dark brown, but there are some variations. Some individuals may be completely black, while others may be almost entirely white.
Diet: They primarily eat fish, but they will also take mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Location: Western and central Asia.
Habitat: Mountains, forests, plains, etc.
10. Egyptian Vulture
Scientific Name: Neophron percnopterus
The Egyptian Vulture is one of the world’s most widespread birds and is considered a symbol of death in Egypt. These birds are also called “vultures,” although they do not belong to the same family as true vultures. Although they look like large black crows, they are related to eagles.
Size: These vultures are 1.9-2.3 feet tall.
Color: It has a whitish head, back, and chest. Its wings are also primarily white, but its black primary and secondary feathers make a lovely contrast of color.
Diet: Egyptian vultures are scavengers, feeding on dead animals’ remains, though occasionally eating plants and insects. Its diet varies depending on where it lives, and it prefers to feed near water sources.
Location: North Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Habitat: Deserts and savannas
11. Fish Crow
Scientific Name: Corvus ossifragus
Size: between 36–40 centimeters (14–16 in)
Color: They’re all-black birds with black plumage.
Diet: The fish crow is often seen near bodies of water, where there are many rotting things to feed on. In fact, they are such good scavengers that they are sometimes called “garbage pickers.” Although they are omnivores, they tend to prefer fish over meat. However, they occasionally catch insects and fruit if they find something tasty.
Location: These birds live in tropical regions worldwide, including North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica.
Habitat: They tend to live near water, like lakes and rivers.
12. Golden Eagle
Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos
The golden eagle is a large bird of the falcon family. This species is commonly known as the American, bald, or simply eagle. It is one of the largest living predatory birds.
Size: Golden eagles are one of the largest eagle species in the world. They are medium-sized with a wingspan of around five feet and weigh up to 10 pounds.
Color: Their plumage ranges from dark brown to golden yellowish coloration.
Diet: They feed mainly on carrion, fish, small reptiles, amphibians, birds, rodents, and sometimes insects. They rarely eat fruits or vegetables.
The Golden Eagle is a brilliant bird. They use their keen eyesight to find food and track prey. When hunting, they often soar high above the ground, looking for their next meal.
Location: They live throughout North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Habitat: These birds are usually seen soaring above mountainous regions but can also be found hunting near rivers and lakes.
13. Griffon Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps fulvus
Size: Griffon Vulture is one of the largest living species of raptors, with a wingspan of up 2.5 meters and a weight of about 10 kg.
Color: The Griffon vulture is sand-colored to dark brown, with a white head, neck, and ruff. The primary- and tail feathers are dark brown to black. Young birds have a brown ruff and are darker in color.
Diet: This bird species feeds mainly on carrion, especially those killed by lions, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, snakes, and wild dogs, including those of humans. They are usually seen alone or in pairs. They often perch high above the ground, where they wait for food to fall into their open mouths.
Location: They are found in Europe, North Africa, and a part of Asia.
Habitat: They live in dry regions where they feed on carrion, such as roadkill, garbage dumps, and open landfills.
Scientific Name: Buteo
The scientific name for hawks is Buteo, which means “butterfly hawk.” They’re sometimes called kites because of how they fly.
Hawks are one of the most famous birds of prey. They are often seen soaring above cities and towns, looking for food. Many kinds of hawks exist, including kites, falcons, eagles, ospreys, and even vultures. Each type of hawk has specific characteristics that make it unique. For example, owls hunt like eagles, while kingfishers are fish-eating birds.
Size: They are large birds, ranging from about 10 inches long to over 40 inches. Their wingspan ranges from 5 to 7 feet.
Color: Most hawks are grayish brown, although some are more reddish or bluish. Some species have a red face, while others have a blue face.
Diet: Hawks are carnivorous birds. They hunt primarily small mammals, reptiles, and birds, but they will also take more oversized prey items, such as rabbits, hares, squirrels, and even other hawks.
Hawks have a strong sense of sight and hearing. They use those senses to locate prey. A hawk usually hunts alone or in pairs. When hunting, it flies slowly and silently toward its target. Once close enough, it dives down to grab its prey.
Location: Central Africa, southern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America.
Habitat: They live in forests, grasslands, and scrubland.
15. Himalayan Vultures
Scientific Name: Gyps Himalayensis
Size: The Himalayan vulture measures between 30 and 35 cm (12–14 in) tall. Its wingspan is around 1.8 m (6 ft).
Color: It’s primarily white, with a light gray head and neck. The rest of its body is covered with dark brown feathers.
Diet: These huge birds are known for their ability to eat dead bodies. Scientists believe that bird eats carrion, including those of humans. A study published in 2016 showed that a single group of Himalayan vultures could consume up to 20 lbs of meat each day. The researchers saw that the birds mostly ate meat from livestock such as sheep, goats, cows, horses, camels, yaks, and donkeys. They also ate meat from domesticated dogs, cats, and human corpses.
Location: They can be found in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.
Habitat: They live in mountainous areas at altitudes of 3,000 meters (9,800 ft). They are often seen soaring high above the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas.
16. Hooded Vulture
Scientific Name: Necrosyrtes Monachus
Size: It’s about 62–72 cm and weighs about 2 pounds. Its wingspan is about 4 feet.
Color: Most species have dark plumage, although some are brownish or light gray. Their broad and rounded wings give them a wedge-shaped silhouette when flying.
Diet: They are adapted to feeding on dead carcasses of animals containing bones. As such, they are important predators of carrion, especially when food resources are low. It primarily eats meat, but it will eat almost anything rotting. Because of this, it is often seen around garbage dumps.
Location: Sub-Saharan Africa
Habitat: They prefer dry open habitats, such as savannas, deserts, and steppes.
17. Lappet-Faced Vulture
Scientific name: Torgos Tracheliotos
Size: It’s 95-115 cm
Color: These birds are mostly brownish-grey in color, with blackish heads, necks, wings, and tails. This vulture has a distinct appearance: a bare head, neck, and long beak. Its face is covered with feathers except for the area around its eyes, where there is bare skin.
Diet: This vulture is a scavenger. It eats meat, especially the bones of dead animals.
Location: sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat: They prefers open, semi-arid, or arid habitat, including deserts, steppes, grasslands, savannas, and open woodland, especially if there are some scattered acacia trees around for it to perch on.
18. Lesser Yellow-Headed Vultures
Scientific name: Cathartes Burrovianus
The lesser yellow-headed vultures are one of the most endangered species in the world. They live in the tropical forests of South America. Scientists estimate there are fewer than 50,000 individuals left in the wild. This makes the lesser yellow-headed vultures vulnerable to extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the lesser yellow-headed vultures as critically endangered.
Size: It’s 53–66 cm (21–26 in) in length
Color: Its plumage is black with a green sheen. The throat and the sides of the head are featherless. The head and neck are bare of feathers, and the skin is yellow, with a reddish forehead, nape, and gray-blue crown.
Diet: Their diet consists mostly of decaying animal matter. This makes them essential to keep the environment clean.
Location: Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Habitat: Tropical rainforests.
19. Marabou Storks
Scientific name: Leptoptilos Crumenifer
The scientific name for this type of stork is Leptoptilos Crumenifer. This name means “leathery eyelid,” referring to the black stripe that runs across the eye. This bird is distinctive and often mistaken for a vulturine bird.
Size: It’s about 1.5 m tall and weighs about 7 kg.
Color: The marabou stork is mainly gray and white. It has a naked pinkish head and neck.
Diet: The marabou stork feeds mainly on carrion, insects, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and some invertebrates.
Location: Sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat: It lives in wetlands, lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, and coastal areas.
20. Pigeon Guillemot
Scientific name: Cepphus columba
Size: It’s 18–22 cm long and weighs about 2.3 kg.
Color: It has dark brown plumage, a bright white patch in the upper wing, and vivid scarlet feet.
They look similar to Doves, although they do have some differences. Their bodies are mostly black, except for their wings and tail feathers. In addition, their heads are very dark.
Diet: These birds are scavengers, meaning they will eat just about everything they can find. This includes dead animals, plants, and even garbage. However, they will avoid eating living things like insects, worms, and snakes. They prefer to eat food that is already dead.
Location: Northern Europe, North America, and Asia.
Habitat: They can often be found near the coastlines of North America.
21. Red-Throated Loon
Scientific name: Gavia Stellata
Size: It’s 53 to 69 cm long and weighs about 2-3 kg.
Color: In the summer, its head and neck are grey with a large glossy red patch on its neck. In the winter, its head turns white, and the red patch goes away for the season.
Diet: The red-throated loon is a scavenging bird that lives in the Arctic. These birds feed on dead fish, and they also eat carrion. They are essential parts of the ecosystem because they help to keep the environment clean and healthy.
Location: Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and other northern countries.
Habitat: They live in freshwater environments such as lakes, ponds, and streams.
22. Ruddy Turnstone
Scientific name: Arenaria interpres
Its scientific name is Arenaria interpres. In Latin, it means “interpres,” meaning “turning over.” Their name comes from their habit of turning over rocks and pebbles in search of food.
Size: It measures about 21- 26 cm.
Color: This type of bird is closely related to the black-headed gull. They are very similar in appearance except for the coloration on their backs. Their bodies are primarily brownish gray, while their underbelly is white.
Their wings are long and pointed. They have a strong bill that helps them pick up food. In addition, they have a unique way of turning over rocks and shells in search of prey.
Diet: They are both carnivores and scavengers; they feed on carrion, eggs, and plant material but mainly invertebrates.
Location: This species breeds along North America’s coastlines and winters in South America’s tropical waters.
Habitat: They live on beaches, rocky shores, and islands.
23. Ruppell’s Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps rueppellii
Ruppell’s vultures are large African birds that live in dry regions. Ruppell’s Vulture has three subspecies: the Abyssinian, the Somali, and the Cape. This bird species is known for being very aggressive and territorial. When it wants food, it doesn’t care about anything else.
Size: Their wingspans range from 2.9–3.1 m, weighing about 8–9 kg.
Color: Its body is chocolate brown and white with soft white fluff covering the head’s purple-red skin.
Diet: They feed mainly on carrion, especially dead livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, camels, pigs, and wild game. Sometimes they attack living prey, like monkeys and small rodents.
Habitat: Dry grasslands, savannas, and deserts.
24. Slaty-Backed Gull
Scientific name: Larus schistisagus.
The Slaty-backed gull is one of the most commonly seen scavengers around.
Color: They have white plumage and wide black wings with yellow beaks.
Diet: They eat anything that falls into the ocean or river. Their diet consists mostly of garbage and small animals such as crabs, frogs, snakes, and even baby seagulls.
Location: They are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, although they prefer warmer climates. These birds migrate south during wintertime.
Habitat: These gulls are usually found along coasts and rivers.
25. Snowy Sheathbill
Scientific name: Chionis albus
The Snowy Sheathbill lives in the southernmost parts of the world. There are about 7,500 individuals left.
Color: They have white plumage and yellow beaks.
Diet: The sheathbills feed on carrion, mainly dead penguins and seals. They use their long bills to pick out pieces of flesh and bones. They dig up small burrows and eat worms, insects, and grubs.
This species has an enormous mouth, which helps it to get through the thick layer of fat that covers the bones of dead whales. In addition, the Snowy Sheathsbill uses its long legs to dig into the ground where the bone fragments are buried. They use their strong bills to pull out pieces of flesh and scrape away the fat. Once the bones are cleaned, the sheathbills store them in their nests.
Location: These birds are found throughout the Southern Hemisphere. They live near coastal areas where there are penguins and seals.
Habitat: The Snowy Sheaths are found in many different habitats, such as coastal areas, open tundra, rocky outcrops, and even lakes.
26. South Polar Skua
Scientific name: Stercorarius maccormicki
The South Polar Skua is one of the most aggressive species of skuas. They form flocks of up to 50 individuals. These birds are territorial and attack people who come too close to their nests.
Size: This bird is about 53cm tall.
Color: It has a dark gray back and a light gray belly.
Diet: The South Polar Skua is one of the most dangerous birds in Antarctica. These birds are sometimes called “the penguin hawk.” They feed on dead penguins and seal carcasses, and often swoop down on people walking along the ice.
Location: They are located in Antarctica.
Habitat: These birds are found in coastal areas, including islands.
27. Southern Giant-Petrel
Scientific name: Macronectes giganteus
Size: These are among the largest scavenger birds. They can weigh up to twenty pounds and have wing spans of over seven feet.
Color: They have two distinct color morphs, dark and white
Diet: These birds feed on dead fish, squid, octopuses, and other marine life. They also eat eggs, chicks, and small mammals. They spend much of their lives flying high above the ocean, searching for dead animals floating on its surface or washed ashore.
Location: They live along the coastlines of southern Africa and Australia, where they feed mostly on fish, squid, crustaceans, and small mammals. They are known for their ability to dive deep into the water and swim down to catch prey. This is why it’s called the “Southern Giant-Petrel.”
Habitat: They live in shallow seas and estuaries.
28. Steppe Eagle
Scientific name: Aquila nipalensis
Aquilae nipalensis is Latin for “Nepal eagle,” It refers to the specific subspecies of steppe eagles that live in the Himalayas.
Size: These are some of the largest eagles in the world, reaching up to 62-74 cm and weighing 2-3kg.
Color: Their plumage consists of dark brown feathers on the head, neck, shoulders, upper chest, and tail. On the underparts, it ranges from light grayish brown to olive green. Its eyes are yellow or orange, and its bill is black and yellow.
Diet: Its diet consists mostly of carcasses left behind by predators like lions and leopards.
Location: These birds live in temperate regions across Eurasia and North America.
Habitat: This magnificent raptor lives in dry savannah habitats, where it hunts rodents and insects.
29. Tawny Eagles
Scientific name: Aquila rapax
Size: They are about 65 – 72 centimeters in length and weigh 1.6 – 2.4 kg.
Color: They have tawny colored parts with black flight feathers, a tail, and a paler lower back area. They also have light-colored stripes on their wings.
Diet: They are known as scavengers because they feed off dead animals. Their diet consists mostly of carrion, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, small mammals, and eggs. In addition to being able to hunt down food, the Tawny Eagle also hunts for prey like gazelles, hares, snakes, rodents, and lizards.
Habitat: They live near water and are usually seen flying around rivers and lakes.
30. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Size: They are medium-sized hawks with long wingspans. They’re about 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
Color: They have gray upperparts, white rump, and white underparts with spotted breasts.
Diet: Its diet includes carrion, which is why it often picks up dead animals and even kills snakes.
Location: North America and sub-Arctic Canada.
Habitat: Prairies, savannahs, deserts, or grasslands.