Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Details About The Turkey Vulture

  • General Information

    The Turkey Vulture is the most common of the New World vultures. It is a blackish bird usually seen soaring over the countryside using long, narrow wings. On the underwing, silver flight feathers contrast with the black coverts on the leading edge of the wing. In flight, wings are held in a slight "V" (dihedral). Turkey Vultures have long tails; their head is small, bare, and reddish in the adult.

    Latin Name: Cathartes aura
    Class: Aves
    Order: Accipitriformes
    Family: Cathartidae
    Length: 23-38 inches
    Weight: 3.5-5.3 pounds
    Wingspan: 60-72 inches
    Common Name: Buzzard, Carrion Crow
    Etymology: kathartes (Greek) - "a purifier"; aurum - most likely a Latinized version of Latin American word for vulture

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    Turkey Vultures are often seen soaring on thermals and updrafts, with their wings held in a slight dihedral (V-shape). When soaring, they sway and rock from side to side, and look unstable in the air. They flap less frequently than black vultures, and usually hunt in a low flight.

    The Turkey Vulture is usually silent due to a lack of a voicebox. At the nest or when feeding, the bird will hiss and grunt.

    The Turkey Vulture is found mainly in deciduous forests and woodlands.

  • Nesting

    Turkey Vultures do not construct a nest. Instead, they usually use a cave, hollow tree, or a fallen hollow. They normally lay 2 whitish eggs with dark brown splotches. Incubation lasts from 34-41 days, and nestlings are covered with almost white down. Turkey Vultures are more passive in nest defense than Black Vultures. Chicks are ready to leave the nest in about 9 weeks but will often stay in family groups until next breeding season.

  • Distribution

    Turkey Vultures are found throughout the entire continental United States and southern Canada. They are migratory throughout most of their range.

  • Food

    Turkey Vultures have weaker talons and beaks than many of the other raptors and don't often kill their own food. They are incredibly efficient scavengers; flying helps them to be more efficient than scavenging mammals, as vultures can get to the food faster and yet still have the large size to defend a carcass. Vultures have great appetites, eating up to 20% of their body weight in one sitting. Turkey Vultures find their food using excellent eyesight and an incredible sense of smell. They can actually detect parts per trillion in the air and discern which direction they came from. This is one reason you often see vultures soaring; they can soar at incredible heights, up to several miles in the air.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Male Turkey Vulture, Hildegarde, or "Hildy" as our staff refers to him, was transferred to Carolina Raptor Center in 2009 from the Smokey Mountain Wildlife Center in Tennessee. Upon his arrival, he set his sights on Oshem as a mate and has not left her side since.

    Oshem, a female Turkey Vulture, joined Carolina Raptor Center's resident team in 1987 and in 2010 joined our ranks as an education bird. Serving double duty on the trail, Oshem can often be seen taking long strolls with her trainers from her enclosure down to the ampitheater, where she wows crowds and makes every flight show attendee a vulture lover.

    Turkey Vulture Goradiko was named by a volunteer by combining two words - "Gora" (the Shona language of Zimbabwe) for ""vulture"" and Shona sculptor Passmore Mupindiko's last name. As a baby vulture, her head is still black - soon, she will sport a turkey red head and fit in with the rest of the turkey (vultures).

    Notice anything different about Sadie, the Turkey Vulture? She is cappucino brown compared to the mocha of her Turkey Vulture comrades, and her head is pink rather than red. Sadie has a condition called leucism, which means her body produces less melanism than is required to make her feathers and skin a normal color for her species. She seems to get lighter every year.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    When threatened, Turkey Vultures can protect themselves by projectile vomiting. Barf.

    Not everyone sees vultures as a creepy harbinger of death—many see them as sacred. Tibetan Buddhists practice “sky burials,” where animals, usually vultures, consume their dead. Similarly, Zoroastrians offer their dead to be consumed by vultures on a raised platform, called a "dakhma."