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Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture

© David McDonald

Cathartes aura

Family: (Cathartidae) New World Vultures 

Preferred Habitat: Open country

Seasonal Occurrence: Very common throughout the year. Permanent resident.

Profile by Vicki Stittleburg: Turkey Vultures are large raptors with long, broad wings and long tails. They appear black from a distance but up close are dark brown with a featherless red head and sharply hooked pale bill. The undersides of the flight feathers are silvery, contrasting with the black primaries and wing coverts, giving a two-toned look to the wing. Juveniles have gray skin on the head and a dark bill. Often seen high overhead, Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a shallow "V" and tilt gently from side to side while soaring. Riding thermal updrafts allows the birds to ascend to high altitudes; pilots have reported vultures soaring at 20,000 feet.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers that feed exclusively on carrion which they locate with their highly developed sense of smell. They will feed on any dead animal, but mostly eat mammals. They will also consume reptiles, other birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Since they lack a voice box, Turkey Vultures are mostly silent, but will occasionally grunt or hiss if threatened.

Turkey Vultures are common throughout the year and can be found around open areas such as roadsides, suburbs, pastures and rangelands. In colder weather and at night they roost on poles, towers, dead trees, and fence posts.

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