Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Turkey vultures often soar above open fields or perch in high secluded areas awaiting their next meal – usually a recently deceased animal that they detect using their keen sense of smell.

Range & Habitat

Turkey vultures are common to the Western Hemisphere from southern Canada to Cape Horn. They prefer deciduous forests, farmlands or other open areas. They are permanent residents of the southern United States, but northern birds may migrate as far south as South America.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

In the U.S., this species receives special legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and its populations have been increasing over the last few decades.

Diet

In the Wild – carrion, shoreline vegetation, pumpkin, bits of other crops and live insects

At the Zoo: rats, mice, rabbit, chicken and beef

Life Span

In the Wild – 16 years, 10 months (banded individual);
In Human Care – 30+ years

Fun Facts about the Turkey Vulture

  •  Turkey vultures are so-called because their featherless red head resembles that of a turkey.
  •  A group of vultures is called a “Venue.” Vultures circling in the air are called a “Kettle.” Groups of feeding vultures are called “wakes.” 
  •  Turkey vultures have excellent eyesight but poor night vision and are one of the only bird species in North America with a sense of smell.
  •  To conserve energy, vultures often ride thermals, columns of hot air that rise as updrafts.

Sources

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Turkey vulture. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Turkey_Vulture/id

 

Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds, Turkey Vulture. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/turkey-vulture

 

Updated February 3, 2021
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