Photo © Samuel Blanc [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via  Wikimedia Commons

Photo © Samuel Blanc [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Southern Canada to South America.

Length          25-32 inches
Wingspan     67-70 inches
Weight          ~4.5 pounds

Open country with some trees; desert, forest areas.

Carrion; preferably 2 to 4 days old.

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.