COMMON NAME: Turkey Vulture
TECHNICAL NAME: Cathartes aura
Click on any photo to enlarge
DESCRIPTION: The Turkey Vulture is a large bird. Its body weight can go as high as 5 lbs., its wingspan up to 72 inches, and its length up to 42 inches. The more northern birds tend to be larger than the birds at the more southern end of the habitat range.
These birds have a gray crown, with a red face and beak. Its legs and feet are pinkish-red, and most of its feathers are very dark brown and look black from a distance.
Turkey Vultures are beautiful and graceful flyers and seem to soar long distances across the sky before having to flap its wings. They can fly anywhere from very high in the sky to down close to the grown. They have not only a keen eye but a very strong sense of smell to help them find their food. Their beak has a small gap that you can see through from a certain angle.
The females look mostly the same as the males but tend to be slightly larger.
RANGE: The Turkey Vulture lives in the Americas from Southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. The northern birds tend to migrate south during the winter, many all the way to Central America. They can inhabit a wide variety of habitats but generally prefer to be near woods, as long as it isn’t a dense forest.
At night the Turkey Vulture’s body temperature lowers in order to conserve energy. In the morning, it will spread its wings in the sun, as seen here, to warm itself, probably in preparation for taking flight.
The vulture in this photo came and sat on the light pole just out front of my house, remaining in that position long enough so I could snap a few dozen photos. This is about the closest I’ve seen one of these birds touch down to my house since we have 4 dogs who don’t hesitate to go after them when they fly low over our property.
In this photo you can see the gap in the beak as mentioned in a previous paragraph.
FOOD: The Turkey Vulture feeds primarily on carrion (carcasses), rarely ever killing for food except in the case of sick or dying animals or insects. Its talons are not strong, nor good grippers and grabbers. Instead, it uses its eyes and its very strong sense of smell to find dead and rotting meat to eat. Since this bird has a strong immunity against the typical dangers of rotting flesh, it serves an important role in consuming, and thereby disposing of, bacteria-ridden carcasses that would otherwise be prone to spread disease. Scavengers such as vultures are important cleaner-uppers of our environment.
I often observe Turkey Vultures sitting harmoniously together on wide electric poles or in trees, but every once in awhile I’ll observe a bit of agressiveness as in this photo. One Turkey Vulture swooped in and forced another to fly away. Perhaps when I learn more about this bird I might find out that these two were competitive males or females, duking it out over territory or something.
In order to learn more comprehensive information about Turkey Vultures, two good sources are Encyclopedia of Life (click here) and Wikipedia (click here). These links go directly to their Turkey Vulture pages.
EOL has dozens of pictures to look through. If you want to see more Turkey Vulture pictures that I’ve captured here on this Texas acre, either click on “Birds: Large” in the category list or type Turkey Vulture into the search bar.
There are also many wildlife photos submitted by citizen scientists throughout the Americas on Project Noah, ARKive and iNaturalist, among others. I provide links to these 3 sources on the sidebars of this blog.
Feel free to leave comments, questions or corrections in the comment section below.