Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) The turkey vulture, also referred to as the turkey buzzard in some North American regions, is the most widespread of the New World vultures. It is not closely related to Old World vultures of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Turkey vultures in the Everglades use columns of rising air (thermals) to fly, flapping their wings infrequently.
TURKEY VULTURES EVERGLADES HABITAT
The turkey vulture has a large range, found from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, grasslands, shrublands, pastures, foothills, wetlands, and deserts. Turkey vultures are known for roosting in large communities, nesting in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. This habitat is widely experienced on our most popular Everglades airboat tour, group airboat tour, private airboat tour, or Miami airboat tour.
SIZE & APPEARANCE
Turkey vultures are large birds with featherless heads and pale beaks. Their wingspans range between 63 and 72 inches, and their body lengths between 24 and 32 inches. They weigh between 1.8 and 5.1 pounds. Birds in the species’ northern limit (including Florida) average larger in size than those found in the neotropics. Their body feathers are mainly brownish-black, but they also have silvery flight feathers on the wings.
Turkey vultures are scavengers, and their diets are almost solely made up of carrion – dead and decaying flesh of animals. They find their food using their keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gasses produced by the beginning of the dead animal’s decaying process. The turkey vulture has very few natural predators and rarely kills its own prey. Their prey and diet are seen widely aboard our Everglades excursion.
INTERACTION WITH VEHICLES IN EVERGLADES
Turkey Vultures and Cars
The Everglades Park hosts both black and turkey vultures. Both vulture species are crucial to the environment of Everglades National Park and are protected by the Endangered Species Act. It is important to note that these black vultures are notorious for targeting rubber and vinyl pieces on cars at Everglades National Park by simply ripping them off the car parts.
Protecting Your Vehicle
Since these vultures may attack cars, the National Park Service in other areas of the Everglades has recommended to visitors that they park in populated areas, close to other vehicles and buildings, and preferably in full sun. While we do not have the same level of vulture population as the National Parks, it’s a good idea to follow the Park Rangers’ advice and carry a tarp and bungee cords with you as you explore the Everglades so that you can protect your car if you’re in a situation where vultures are present.
VULTURE’S IMPORTANCE IN THE ECOSYSTEM
Role as Scavengers
Vultures are often portrayed as horrible scavengers who eat the remains of deceased animals. However, these birds are essential to the preservation of a healthy ecology. According to USDA and wildlife research, black vultures have acute senses of smell and eyesight that enable them to locate dead animals at great heights such as communication towers. These migratory birds often digest carcass remains due to their acidic stomach juice.
However, the vulture population experienced a sudden decrease due to poaching and mass poisoning. Vultures are now endangered species that are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the U.S, the Everglades’ serves as a conservation site and is controlled by professional park officials and a wildlife biologist.
Interaction with Other Wildlife
Vultures are sometimes mistaken for an Eagle or a raptor because they share the sky with other bird species like a flamingo and eagle. Their claws are more similar to that of a chicken than that of a raptor, making them virtually useless for catching livestock. They sometimes appear in groups and scare away the birds along the waterways.
Vultures primarily feed on the carcasses of alligators and other bird species, reducing the risk of disease transmission and preventing the buildup of decaying organic matter. Sometimes, they share their dead animals with alligators by consuming the leftover flesh, while the gators eat the bones and cartilage.
TURKEY VULTURES EVERGLADES FUN FACTS
- Turkey vultures sometimes travel up to 200 miles in just one day.
- You can see turkey vultures while passing Vulture Island on one of our exciting airboat tours.
- They are the only scavenger birds that cannot catch and kill their prey.
- Turkey vultures can live up to 25 years but typically have a lifespan of about 20 years.