Taphonomic Effects of Vulture Scavenging




Reeves, Nicole Marie

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From July through September 2007, three pig carcasses (Sus scrofa), weighing between 60 and 140 pounds were placed outside in a grassy area in central Texas. A surrounding fence was built to prevent entrance by terrestrial scavengers, while allowing avian scavengers unrestricted access. Modification of the pig carcasses was recorded through the use of two motion-sensing digital cameras and daily on-site observations. Two species of vultures, the American black vulture (Coragyps atratus) and turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), both waited approximately 24 hours before beginning to scavenge and did not feed at night. They completely skeletonized the pig carcasses in 3 to 26 hours of feeding. Vultures were observed manipulating the carcasses, and their activity left scratches on the bones, which can be utilized as specific indicators of vulture scene modification and body alteration. The accelerated rate of decomposition and the signature markings on the bones are important factors to consider when interpreting taphonomic events and determining an accurate postmortem interval at vulture modified scenes.



forensic science, taphonomy, scavenging, vultures


Reeves, N. M. (2008). Taphonomic effects of vulture scavenging (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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