STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Turkey vultures are most commonly known for their bald, pinkish-red head. The body is covered in brownish-black feathers with a wingspan around six feet. They are bigger than hawks and owls but smaller than eagles and condors. When soaring, they hold their wings slightly elevated to make a ‘V’ when seen from straight ahead. When seen from below, the underside of the wings has a paler color that gives them a two-toned appearance.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
Turkey vultures are often seen sunbathing or soaring around open areas searching for carrion. They use their unique sense of smell and sight to locate food items. This species is often the first to arrive at a carcass before larger birds of prey. They play an important role in the ecosystem by consuming carrion that would spread disease among other animals. In order to do this, they have developed a few adaptations to prevent themselves from falling victim to infection. Turkey vultures have evolved to having a bald head in order to keep rotting flesh from sticking to their feathers. They also have the ability to aim urine on one or both legs. This has a dual purpose of both cooling them off and killing any virus or bacteria due to the high acidity.
Turkey vulture breeding season varies by location. They do not build nests but instead lay two eggs directly on the ground in shallow caves or under dense vegetation. The offspring hatch just after a month of incubation and will leave the nest at two to three months of age. When threatened turkey vultures are known to hiss, roll over and play dead, or regurgitate rotting stomach contents.
Turkey vultures can be found all over South America, Central America, and the United States. Individuals residing in North America will often migrate to Central and South America for the winter.
Turkey vultures have an extensive range. They can be found in coastal deserts, grasslands, and occasionally tropical rainforests. This species is common around roadsides, suburbs, farmlands, and areas where food sources are, such as landfills and construction sites.
This species feeds almost exclusively on carrion but have been seen occasionally tackling young or sick animals.