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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 06, 2021

Did You Know? 17 Incredible Turkey Vulture Facts

Turkey vultures are carrion-eating scavenger birds with a bald red head.

The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is also known by many different names. In some North American states, they are known as turkey buzzard or simply buzzard. In some regions along the Caribbean, turkey vultures are called John crow or carrion crow.

Among the New World vultures of the Cathartidae, this species is the most widespread. The family Cathartidae, gets its name from the Greek word ‘cathartes’, meaning ‘purifier’ as they feed on dead animals or carrion.

The turkey vulture range stretches from Southern Canada, through North America, to South America. These carrion-eating birds inhabit open and semi-open areas in pastures, subtropical forests, shrublands, and desert regions.

Turkey vultures have a brownish and black body covered with feathers. The head is bald and red in adult birds. The bald head is black in immature birds.

When these large birds are soaring in the sky, their wings form a V shape.

When they are feeding on the ground, you can easily recognize the dark birds by their red, bald head. When soaring high, these birds can be identified with their broad wings, and wobbly, circular movements.

If you liked this article, check out some incredible facts about the sea eagle and screech owl from Kidadl.

Turkey Vulture Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a turkey vulture?

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) species are scavenger birds that belong to the same family Cathartidae as the California condor and the black vultures.

These large dark feathered birds resemble turkeys with their pinkish-red bald heads, hence the name.

What class of animal does a turkey vulture belong to?

Turkey vulture belongs to the class Aves meaning they are birds.

How many turkey vultures are there in the world?

Turkey vultures are most abundant in North America and South America. The total global population is estimated to be 4.5 million birds.

Where does a turkey vulture live?

These birds with red heads prefer living in open country, pastures, deserts, grasslands, wetlands, sparsely vegetated forests. They roost in large flocks in isolated and quiet woods. These birds do not like densely forested areas.

Turkey vulture nests in remote areas and do not build a real nest. The nesting grounds are located in isolated spots, strange places like rotted stumps, caves, floors surrounded by boulders. Turkey vulture predators of eggs and nestlings include bald eagles, horned owls, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, mammals like raccoons and opossums.

What is a turkey vulture's habitat?

North America, South America, and Southern Canada are home to turkey vultures. During winters, the turkey vulture population from their northern range migrates to warmer South American countries to avoid the harsh cold.

The ideal turkey vulture habitat includes open areas like mixed farmland, sparsely vegetated forests, semi-desert areas, grasslands, and rangeland. Roadsides and landfills are some places where they can be spotted feeding on dead animals.

At night these vultures roost on trees, large rocks, and other high isolated spots.

Who do turkey vultures live with?

Turkey vultures are social birds and roost in big communal groups in particular locations which can be their home for generations.

They forage in small groups during the day.

The large swirling flocks of vultures are called ‘kettles’. These birds fly with their wings positioned straight outwards when soaring high.

Turkey vulture chick remains in the nest and is visited by the parents five or six times a day to feed the young birds. The chick fledges in 60 - 80 days. Juvenile turkey vultures continue to stay with their parents for few months after their first flight.

How long does a turkey vulture live?

Turkey vultures can live up to 24 years but on average their lifespan is about 20 years.

How do they reproduce?

Turkey vultures are monogamous and mate for life. The breeding season starts with courtship behaviors like a courtship dance. It involves dance movements with raised wings and stomping feet. The male also takes a long flight followed by the female turkey vulture.

In matters of building nests, turkey vultures are not like other birds. They do not build nests and lay their eggs in deep hollow trees and logs, dark depression in ledges, inside dark caves, and on the ground. Turkey Vultures may also nest and lay eggs in abandoned bird nests, mammal burrows, and deserted buildings.

The female vulture turkey usually lays two eggs. Turkey vulture eggs are creamy-white with dark spots around the wider end.

Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs and look after the nestlings once they are hatched.

What is their conservation status?

Their conservation status is of Least Concern according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. Their population is stable which is necessary for humans as it may lead to an increase in disease transmission and resource damage.

Turkey Vulture Fun Facts

What do turkey vultures look like?

Turkey vultures roost in large groups and take turns feeding on carrion.

Turkey vultures are large scavenger birds with black and dark grey feathers on the body and silvery-gray flight feathers on the wings. This species can be distinguished from the other vultures easily owing to their red heads. Turkey vulture wingspan can be up to six feet. This species displays almost no sexual dimorphism. Their sizes and plumage are similar. Their ivory-colored beak is short and hooked, and their legs are pink.

Often people confuse a black vulture for a juvenile turkey vulture as both have a black head. When it’s black vulture vs turkey vulture, the feathers should be closely noticed. A black vulture’s feathers are dark, sooty-black whereas turkey vultures also have some brown feathers on their body. If you spotted one in California, remember turkey vultures are common in California but black vultures are rare.

How cute are they?

Turkey vultures cannot be called cute. They feed on dead animals and lead wildlife.

How do they communicate?

Turkey Vultures do not have the vocal organs required to make song-like sounds. Turkey vulture calls are different from other birds. Turkey vulture sounds are like a grunting hiss when they are feeding and irritated. While on flight and soaring in the sky, they make a low, nasal whining sound.

How big is a turkey vulture?

Compared to the tiniest bird of prey the black-thighed falconet which is about 6 in (15.2 cm) long, a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is about five times longer.

How fast can a turkey vulture fly?

Turkey vultures can fly down at a speed of up to 60 mph (96.5 kph), similar to an average vulture.

How much does a turkey vulture weigh?

Turkey vulture size looks bigger than it weighs. Birds of this species weigh between 2-5 lb (0.9-2,2 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

Male and female turkey vultures have no sex-specific names.

What would you call a baby turkey vulture?

A baby turkey vulture is called a chick.

What do they eat?

Turkey vultures feed on carrion. Their naturally developed sharp sense of smell helps them to locate carrion. This is a characteristic of turkey vultures as most scavenging birds and birds of prey use their sharp sense of smell to find food.

Relying on their superior sense of smell, turkey vultures are seen soaring at lower altitudes while looking for food. This power of smell helps the vulture turkey to even locate hidden carcasses buried by carnivorous animals.

As the feet and talons of turkey vultures are weak, they use their sharp beaks to rip open carcasses. A turkey vulture's diet is carrion but these birds prefer feeding on fresh carrion rather than any rotting dead flesh. Among other birds of other similar species, turkey vultures have a moderately timid behavior.

Black vultures and eagles often challenge these scavenger birds while feeding. The turkey vulture vomits in response to offer its challenger their ingested food. Turkey vultures display an organized feeding behavior. They wait for their turn while feeding on a carcass and this behavior is called ‘queuing.’

Are they dangerous?

Turkey vultures do not pose any danger for humans. They help the environment by eating dead animals which may otherwise spread diseases.

When threatened by enemies or predators, a turkey vulture vomits on the source of danger. It acts as a deterrent as the ingested food in their stomach mixes with a strong acid, forming an acidic slurry.

Would they make a good pet?

Turkey vultures are scavenging birds of prey and cannot be kept as pets. They are wild birds and need their natural habitat to survive.

Did you know...

Here are some interesting turkey vulture facts for kids.

Turkey vulture scientific name in Latin means ‘a cleansing breeze.’

Groups of turkey vultures perched in threes are called a ‘wake’.

Turkey vultures often sunbathe early in the morning with their wings spread out. This is thought to be done for warming up their body.

Turkey vultures are the only scavenger birds that can’t kill their prey.

Turkey vulture symbolism is different in different cultures. Some see them as a symbol of cleansing, protection; rebirth, and some associate this bird with death. Turkey vulture skull tattoo may represent a messenger between life and death.

How far can a turkey vulture smell?

Turkey vultures have an extremely developed olfactory system that allows the birds to smell carrion from over a mile’s distance.

Do turkey vultures eat cats?

Turkey vultures rarely kill animals but black vultures may kill and eat small animals like cats.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these king vulture facts and Egyptian vulture facts for kids.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our Egyptian vulture coloring pages.

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