Turkey Vulture

 

Common Name: Turkey Vulture

Class:  Aves

Order: Ciconiiformes

Family: Cathartidae

Genus: Cathartes

Species: Cathartes aura

photo Michael Noonan

Taxonomy/Description

Turkey Vultures are in the family Cathartidae which groups them together with other vultures. Turkey Vultures are the most common vulture in the New World. They are about 27 inches (69cm) in size with a wingspan of about 69 inches (175cm). They are a very large soaring bird that is dark brownish-black in color. The trailing edges of their wings is silvery-white. Turkey Vultures have a smell red unfeathered head and a long hooked bill. The unfeathered head serves a purpose to protect them from disease as they are feeding on carrion. They are mostly seen soaring, but when they do flap it is slow and labored. 

 

photo Michael Noonan

Habitat/Diet

Turkey Vultures are found year-round in most of the southern United States, along the eastern seaboard and in Mexico and Central America. They breed in most of the western and northeastern parts of the United States, even making it into small parts of Canada. They occupy Western New York during the breeding season.

Turkey Vultures are most common in dry, open, farmland and mixed forest areas and are usually alone. They are commonly seen along the sides of high ways as they are able to see their prey easiest. Turkey Vultures prey on wild and domestic carrion. Mammals are the most common choice, but they will feast on chicken, alligators, snakes and turtles.

photo Ivan Andrijevic

Behavior/Reproduction

Turkey Vultures have a monogamous mating system and lay one brood per year. They don't use a nest, but instead will use a cave or a hollow stump. Both sexes will incubate the 2 white eggs that the female has laid. Incubation takes about 38-41 days and the young are semialtricial when hatched. This means they are immobile, downy, able to see and need to be fed. Again, both sexes will tend young until the young are able to fly which is about 66-88 days after they are hatched.  

photo Michael Noonan

Where to see them in WNY 

Turkey Vultures can easily been seen soaring almost any where in Western New York. They are easily spotted next to the thruway as they are soaring above farmlands.

 

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.