VA Native Species Home > Birds

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)


Range
Southern Canada to South America.


Size

Length 26-32 inches
Wingspan 68-72 inches
Weight 4-6.5 pounds


Habitat
Open country with some trees; desert, forest areas.

 

Diet
Carrion; preferably 2 to 4 days old.


Characteristics
Vultures are not classified as raptors, but can be mistaken for a soaring hawk or eagle because of their size. Turkey Vultures are able to eat carrion and contaminated meat due to specialized enzymes and bacteria in their digestive systems. Has an excellent sense of smell, far superior to that of the Black Vulture, which often follows the Turkey Vulture to a dead meal. Soars for long periods by following the rising thermals or hot air currents. Soars with a slight dihedral in wings, and rocks as it soars. Very social bird; roosts in flocks of several dozen in one tree. Their only natural defense is to project their vomit onto the attacker (you!), and do so up to six feet if provoked. Generally hisses loudly as a warning but don't push this. The stuff didn't smell very good when it went in, and assuredly hasn't improved since! Very useful as one of nature's garbage men. Immature birds have a black head, and black beaks which turn white as the bird matures. The adults have the characteristic bald, red head. These birds have weak feet, and do not use them for seizing prey.

 

 
© 2008 Raptor Conservancy of Virginia