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Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Turkey Vulture at Henry Vilas Zoo

About Turkey Vulture

Turkey vultures are a highly distinctive bird of prey. Known for their pinkish-red head, five to six-foot wingspan, and brownish-black plumage, there are six subspecies of turkey vulture which can be distinguished by the intensity of the color of their head.

Habitat

Turkey vultures are found throughout a broad range, from Canada as far south as Chile. Due to their wide distribution, they occupy a range of habitats, such as temperate forests, coastal deserts, grassland, and farmlands.

Diet

They almost exclusively eat carrion (carcasses).

Family Life

Turkey vultures usually roost in large community groups. Their nest sites are in sheltered areas such as hollow trees or logs, crevices in cliffs, and old buildings. They either do not build nests or built very little nests. Rather, they lay their eggs on debris or the flat bottom of their nest sites. Eggs are incubated for 30-40 days and fledge at 70-80 days. About a week after they fledge, they are independent.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the Turkey Vulture is classified as least concern.
Least concern graphic

Threats

  • Turkey vultures do not face any major threats.

Facts about Turkey Vulture

  • Class:
    Aves (birds)
  • Order:
    Falconiformes (diurnal birds of prey)
  • Family:
    Cathartidae (New World vultures and condors)
  • Genus:
    Cathartes (carrion-feeding birds)
  • Species:
    Aura (turkey vultures)
  • Life Span:
    Up to 16 years (wild)
  • Size:
    2 – 3 feet (64 – 81 cm)
  • Weight:
    2 – 4.5 lbs (0.85 – 2 kg)
  • Wing Span:
    5 – 6 feet (170 – 183 cm)

Fun Facts

  • Turkey vultures have a highly developed sense of smell, unlike other birds. They use it to locate carcasses, even under the cover of vegetation.
  • Due to their diet of carrion, they have a high tolerance against microbial toxins.
  • They play an important ecological role of disposing of carcasses, which can act as a source of disease.
  • Turkey vultures have a light wing load; they are more buoyant in the air than other vultures, using the wind to fly with minimal energy use.

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