Turkey Vulture

STATUSLeast Concern

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Cathartes aura

DIETCarrion; occasional live prey such as young birds or mammals; plant material including pumpkins, coconuts, juniper berries, and grapes

RANGENorth and South America

HABITATOpen areas and a wide variety of habitats

Turkey Vulture

Physical Description

Vultures are very large birds with sharp, hooked beaks for tearing apart meat and wide wingspans. New World vultures have a distinctive bald head, an adaptation that helps reduce the risk of disease. Their strong immune system allows vultures to eat rotting and possibly infected meat without getting sick. They have long, horizontal nostrils with a space between them and lack a voice box, so they cannot make any sound except hisses and grunts.


Predators

Jaguars, mountain lions, hawks, eagles, and raccoons.


Lifespan

In the wild vultures live around 20 years. Under human care they can live into their 30s.


Reproduction

Vultures form monogamous pairs for life, and males will court females by showing off their flying skills, almost touching the females’ wing tip as they fly by. New World vultures lay their egg(s) in a cave or under a rocky overhang, under bushes or rock piles, or in tree hollows or fallen logs. Females lay one egg if she is a larger vulture and two eggs if she is smaller. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks. Chicks remain in the nest for 2-3 months until they learn how to find and compete for food.


Fun Facts

  • Most birds are believed to have a very poor sense of smell, but the Turkey Vulture is an exception, apparently able to find carrion by odor.
  • Vultures will urinate down their legs to cool the blood in their lower extremities, which helps regulate their body temperature.

Conservation Messaging

Most of the Bird of Prey here at the zoo are all rehabilitated birds who have sustained different injuries deeming them unreleasable. These birds fall victim to debris found on the side of the road. If it’s an apple core, banana peel, or some discarded trash it will attract their prey items which will then attract the bird of prey. Birds of prey have tunnel vision when hunting and will often not see a car coming. One simple way we can help is to dispose of all your trash properly, even natural items like apple cores and banana peels.

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