The turkey vulture got its name for its superficial similarities to the wild turkey, but this large bird of prey is not at all like the feisty game bird. Often reviled for its unconventional appearance and habit of feasting on carrion, these birds still occupy a vital niche in avian ecology.
- Bill: Slightly hooked, white or cream color
- Size: 28-32 inches long with 70-inch wingspan, long neck
- Colors: Black, gray, white, red, pink, brown
- Markings: Male and female birds are similar with overall brown-black plumage. Some gray or white may show on the wings of perched birds but is much more prominent in the bi-colored pattern seen in flight with a dark leading edge and white or gray trailing edge and fingertips. The head is bare and red with white or greenish warts below and in front of the eye. The legs are pale red or pink.
Habitat and Migration:
Turkey vultures are fairly common and widespread throughout all types of habitats in the United States and the southern edge of Canada in the summer. Populations in the northern and mountain states as well as the Great Plains migrate seasonally, while turkey vultures in the Southeast and along the Pacific Coast may remain all year. These birds are year-round residents throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America.
Turkey vultures are primarily silent birds, though they do have a rough hiss they may use when threatened or in distress. This hiss can also be heard from flocks around food or when roosting. Other calls, though rarely heard, include guttural growling and grunts.
These birds with their long, broad wings are majestic fliers and can soar for hours searching for food. Their flight pattern is easily recognized by the wings held in a slight V shape and rocking back and forth as they scan for a meal. Turkey vultures have extraordinary sight and are one of the few birds to have a highly developed sense of smell, which is useful when locating food. Flocks of turkey vultures can often be found at carcasses and they will also roost in flocks at night. When not soaring or feeding, these birds often spread their wings to sun.
These are monogamous birds and a mated pair will produce one brood of 1-3 eggs annually. Both parents incubate the young birds for 38-40 days, and they will feed the young birds via regurgitation for 65-85 days until the juveniles are ready to leave the nest.
Attracting Turkey Vultures:
These are not backyard birds but may be found near human habitation anywhere dead animals can be found. Road kill is a common food source though risky, as many birds are hit by cars each year. Turkey vultures will also feed on stillborn livestock and afterbirth if it is left available.
- Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
- California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
- Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus)