Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Courtesy of Birdsall Nature Photography, birdsphoto.com

The Turkey Vulture is one of our largest birds. It grows as big as an eagle; up to 32 inches long, with a six-foot wingspan.

Turkey Vultures are black with a bare reddish head. They have a yellow bill and yellow feet. The flight feathers of this bird are silvery-colored, and you can see them from below when they are soaring.

Turkey Vultures are found in forests, fields, roadsides, farmland, and dumps.

Copyright, Freeman F. & Mary Daniels Brown

The Turkey Vulture Society

Copyright, Peter LaTourrette, http://birdphotography.com

Considering what they eat, these are some of the cleanest animals around. Having few feathers on their heads means they can wash them easily, and Turkey Vultures often bathe in water. They constantly preen (cleans out its feathers with its bill).

Turkey Vultures eat a great deal of carrion, the more rotten the better. Some common carrion consumed by vultures includes: shrews, moles, squirrels, woodchuck, mice, rabbit, birds, reptiles, insects, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, skunk, and fox. They also eat a great deal of plant matter, such as leaves, grass, and seeds.

Falcons, Hawks, and Eagles of Northern Arizona

Glanbrook Conservation Committee

Copyright, Michael K. Moore

Turkey Vultures have a terrific digestive system, which kills any bacteria or disease from the carrion they eat. Their droppings (poop) and pellets (thrown up bones and fur) are disease-free. Vultures are very important to the environment, because they clean up dead animals and make it so diseases are not spread.

Turkey Vultures nest in rock crevices, hollow trees, caves, fallen hollow logs, or ledges. They don't build nests; they just lay their eggs on the ground. These birds lay two whitish eggs with dark brown markings. Young vultures are able to leave the nest about 10 weeks after hatching.

Turkey Vultures are usually seen soaring high up in the sky. They can soar for hours at a time, searching for food. They are able to fly with very few wing beats because they ride on thermals. Thermals are batches of warm air that rise up.

Vultures have excellent sight and hearing, but are best known for their tremendous sense of smell.

Bill Kohbnoos, The Turkey Vulture Society

Gene Butler, The Turkey Vulture Society

Because they have small claws, Turkey Vultures rarely kill their own prey. They occasionally kill weak or young animals.

At night, Turkey Vultures gather in large roosts. They like to roost in tall trees, or sometimes on towers. Vultures usually return to the same roost every night. In fact, each vulture usually roosts on the same branch each time! Some vultures will occasionally wander off to visit another roost, but they always come back. Certain Turkey Vulture roosts are known to be over 100 years old, meaning young vultures stay at the roosts their parents and grandparents were from.

Mark Moran

Turkey Vultures live in our area year-round. In the summer, vultures cool off by going to the bathroom on their own legs. If cornered, they may roll over and play dead. As a last resort, Turkey Vultures will throw up on their attacker with a very foul-smelling liquid.

Predators of Turkey Vultures are usually animals which attack eggs or young. These include: Raccoon, Red Fox, Virginia Opossum, Black Rat Snake, and domestic dogs.

Copyright, David Spiers

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Turkey Vulture
Video
John R. Sauer
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

FOOD/PREY
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Least Shrew (carrion)

Raccoon

American Sycamore

Bald Eagle EC

Raccoon (carrion)

Red Fox

Black Oak

Red Fox (carrion)

Virginia Opossum

Willow Oak

Virginia Opossum (carrion)

Black Rat Snake

Yellow Poplar

White-tailed Deer (carrion)

American Beech

Meadow Vole (carrion)

White-footed Mouse (carrion)

Woodchuck (carrion)

Black Rat Snake (carrion)

Red-tailed Hawk (carrion)

Eastern Cottontail (carrion)

Muskrat (carrion)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (carrion)

Eastern Mole (carrion)

Striped Skunk (carrion)

Switchgrass

Kentucky Bluegrass

Largemouth Bass (carrion)

Common Carp (carrion)

Relationship to Humans:

Although Turkey Vultures are not very pretty to look at, they are an extremely important animal to people. They are a big part of nature's "clean-up crew." Turkey Vultures make dead animals, such as roadkills, disappear. If not for vultures, the dead animals would cause dangerous diseases to spread. Turkey Vultures are also being studied by scientists to see how their digestive systems work in order to learn ways to prevent diseases.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Bird
ORDER
Falconiformes
FAMILY
Cathartidae
GENUS
Cathartes
SPECIES
Cathartes aura

QUICK LINKS

Organism Menu
Home
Glossary
Student Activities
Relationships
Classification Info
How to Use This Site
Bibliography