Not considered a beautiful bird, the common Turkey Vulture, a scavenger, is an important part of the Deer Creek ecosystem. They do the dirty work of keeping it clean.
The Turkey Vulture’s Latin name, Cathartes aura, means ‘breeze purifier.’ Its common name, ‘turkey’ is for the bird’s resemblance to the wild turkey. Vulture means ‘tearer.’ In flight, a group of vultures is a ‘kettle,’ and when feeding together, they are called a ‘wake.’
Turkey vultures inhabit both American continents. In the warmer climates, they remain throughout the year. In colder areas, they are migratory.
Full grown Turkey Vultures have few predators. In junior states of life they can fall prey to raccoons, opossums, red-tailed hawks, eagles, and great horned owls.
Social animals related to hawks and eagles, they eat, soar, mate, and roost in groups, heading off alone when searching for a meal.
Breeding season in our climate can last from March through August. Both males and females care for young, regurgitating food for the chicks for about two-and-a-half months.
With large wingspans and bodies, they wait for warm thermals before taking to the air. This economizes wing flapping.
Vulture food consists of freshly dead animals of about their own size or smaller. A unique adaptation is an acute sense of smell that can locate carcasses up to eight miles away.
Other Turkey Vulture Adaptations
- lowering body temperature at night – becoming slightly hypothermic
- horaltic pose for warming, appearing larger to threats, and UV sterilization of feathers
- no voicebox (syrinx) – communicates with hissing and grunts
- noxious smelling barf – repels threats
- urohydrosis – noxious smelling pee – repels threats, cools legs, kills bacteria from walking on dead animals
- bald heads – cleanliness after burying face in a carcass
- boney shield covering nose
- ability to clear nostril when it becomes clogged
Cellphone video & stills of Turkey Vultures off Newtown Rd. in May and June 2018.
Audobon FieldGuide – Turkey Vulture
Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Turkey Vulture Identification
Internet Bird Collection – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Peregrine Fund – Turkey Vulture
Wikipedia – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Wildlife Center – vulture facts
For a short, humorous, text love story about Turkey Vultures, click here, Repellent.