Vulture plastic ingestion

This research evaluated the extent and type of plastic ingested by black vultures and turkey vultures in an urban environment. 

This research has been published in Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution and can be found here

This research has received media attention! See below for a few articles covering these findings. 

What are urban and rural vulture populations ingesting? How much plastic?

After observing black vultures forage from dumpsters day in and day out, we began to wonder what they are eating, and specifically how much of it is plastic. 

To answer the question, we collected regurgitated pellets from underneath known vulture roosting sites from January 2021 to July 2022. We then dissected all collected pellets and analyzed how the plastic composition of regurgitated vulture pellets is associated with features such as developed landcover, restaurant density, and the density of livestock and game producers in multiple different landscapes.

Finally, we analyzed some of the plastic materials using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to identify the types of plastic most commonly being ingested by vultures. You can read more about Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy here

What have we found? 

This graph shows the spectra from one of our samples (the white line) and how well it matches that of high density polyethylene (the red line)!