Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture   Cathartes aura

Type of Animal:
New World Vulture

Open/semi-open country, woodlands, deserts, foothills, agricultural areas, farmland, rangeland, mountains, forests, roadsides, landfills/garbage dumps, shrubland, pastures, grasslands, wetlands, swamps, prairies, urban/suburban areas, tundra, dunes, savanna, riparian areas, chaparral, scrub forest, estuarine areas, steppe, basically all habitats in range

Ranges from S Canada all the way to southern tip of South America. Also found in Caribbean.

Black w/ whitish to silver-gray underwings/wingtips, dark pink to red bald head, white beak, light pink legs, juveniles have pinkish-black heads

Carrion, refuse, insects, fish, decaying vegetable matter, fruit, seabirds

Status in Wild:

Not applicable

Flocks can range from 6-10,000 birds. Often breed in colonies of many monogamous pairs.

Additional Info:

Male: Cock
Female: Hen
Group: Chick
Young: Wake/Kettle/Committee
2-4 lbs

5 weeks 

Life Span:
16 years in wild, 25-30 years in captivity

2.5 ft

Body Length:
2.5 ft

Tail Length:
0.4 ft

Main predators of adults are large owls, eagles, red-tailed hawks, foxes, crocodilians, & large snakes. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, & most snakes eat young.
Bald head comes in handy for scavenging & making sure dead meat doesn’t adhere to skin as it would to feathers.
Wingspan of up to 6 ft.
Get name since heads resemble turkeys.
Feed by thrusting heads into body cavities of dead animals.
Scientific name means “cleansing breeze.”
Often called “turkey buzzards” or “buzzards” even though true buzzards are in family Accipitridae (hawks, eagles, old world vultures, etc.) not Cathartidae (New World Vultures).

Fun Fact(s):
More related to storks than true raptors.
Can soar for hours w/o flapping wings, taking advantage of thermal updrafts.
As scavengers, they play important role in reducing spread of disease.
Since they lack voice box, they don’t sing/call. Communicate through grunts/hisses.
Highly acidic stomachs can kill bacteria/germs that can make people very sick-such as those that cause anthrax, botulism, salmonella, & cholera.
One of largest olfactory systems of any bird being able to smell carrion from over a mile away.
If disturbed/harassed, they’ll vomit.
During hot months, they’ll poop/pee on their feet to cool off. Will also pee on legs to keep clean since acidic urine washes off bacteria.
Turkey Vulture, stock photo

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