turkey vulture-cathartes aura

Turkey Vulture

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 use columns of rising air (thermals) to fly, flapping their wings infrequently.


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.

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 gases produced by the beginning of dead animal’s decay processes. The turkey vulture has very few natural predators and rarely kills its own prey.

Fun Facts

  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 legally protects turkey vultures from unwarranted hunters and capturers.
  • The turkey vulture’s global population is estimated at 4.5 million individuals.
  • They may rarely be seen feeding on plant matter, shoreline vegetation, pumpkin, coconut and other crops.
  • Turkey vultures have no syrinx – bird’s vocal organs – so their only vocalizations are grunts and hisses.
  • Their scavenger diet plays an important role in the ecosystem, disposing of what otherwise might become breeding grounds for disease.
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