Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Conservation status Thought to have declined during 20th century in parts of North America, but current populations apparently stable.
Family New World Vultures
Habitat Widespread over open country, woods, deserts, foothills. Most common over open or semi-open country, especially within a few miles of rocky or wooded areas providing secure nesting sites. Generally avoids densely forested regions. Unlike Black Vulture, regularly forages over small offshore islands.
A familiar sight in the sky over much of North America is the dark, long-winged form of the Turkey Vulture, soaring high over the landscape. Most birds are believed to have a very poor sense of smell, but the Turkey Vulture is an exception, apparently able to find carrion by odor.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Seeks carrion by soaring over open or partly wooded country, watching the ground and watching the actions of other scavengers. Can also locate some carrion by odor: Unlike most birds, has a well-developed sense of smell.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1, rarely 3. Whitish, blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by both parents, usually 34-41 days. Young: One parent remains with young much of time at first. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. If young are approached in nest, they defend themselves by hissing and regurgitating. Age of young at first flight about 9-10 weeks.


Young

One parent remains with young much of time at first. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. If young are approached in nest, they defend themselves by hissing and regurgitating. Age of young at first flight about 9-10 weeks.

Diet

Mostly carrion. Feeds mainly on dead animals, preferring those recently dead (that is, relatively fresh carrion). Occasionally feeds on decaying vegetable matter, live insects, or live fish in drying-up ponds.


Nesting

As a part of pair formation, several birds gather in circle on ground, and perform ritualized hopping movements around perimeter of circle with wings partly spread. In the air, one bird may closely follow another, the two birds flapping and diving. Nest sites are in sheltered areas, such as inside hollow trees or logs, in crevices in cliffs, under rocks, in caves, inside dense thickets, or in old buildings. Little or no nest built; eggs laid on debris or on flat bottom of nest site.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Present year-round in much of southern United States, but northern birds migrate long distances, some reaching South America. Migrates in flocks, and may travel long distances without feeding.

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Migration

Present year-round in much of southern United States, but northern birds migrate long distances, some reaching South America. Migrates in flocks, and may travel long distances without feeding.

Songs and Calls
Usually silent; hisses or grunts when feeding or at nest.