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Species Description

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Cathartidae

Description

Overall, black. The wings of the Turkey Vulture appears to have two colors, with gray flight feathers and black on the inner part of the wing. The head is bald and red, and the bill is white. 69 cm (27 in) in length; 175 cm (69 in) wingspan. The Turkey Vulture takes advantage of wind currents while flying and seldom flaps its wings. While flying the shape of the wings and body creates a shallow "V".

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in March, peaks from April to May, and extends into June. This species will nest in a variety of habitats, but usually in wooded areas. Nest sites include the ground under a shrub, on a cliff, on a ledge, in a shed, or in a barn. No nest is built and eggs are usually laid on the ground, rocks, or other substrate. The female lays 1-3 (usually 2) eggs that she and the male incubate for 38-41 days. The young are semi-altricial and are cared for by the adults for 66-88 days after they hatch. For the first five days after they hatch, the young are brooded continuously by the adults.

Natural History

This species is a carrion feeder, eating almost any type of dead animal. It can be commonly seen on the roadside eating vehicle-killed animals. The Turkey Vulture uses both sight and scent to find its food. This species also creates large communal roosts, with many birds gathering in the same tree or group of trees in the evening. When frightened, the Turkey Vulture responds by swiftly regurgitating its last meal in the direction of whomever or whatever has frightened it.

Range

Turkey Vulture Region Map The Turkey Vulture occurs throughout most of the continental United States during the breeding season, with birds staying throughout the year in the southern portion of the country. Specifically in the Southeast, numbers are less common in the mountain regions, and reach higher numbers farther south in the range. In southern Georgia, this species is more common in the winter than during the breeding season.

Conservation Status

The Turkey Vulture is widespread and not listed as Threatened or Endangered in the Southeast, although eggshell thinning has reduced its nesting success.

Similar Species

The most similar species to the Turkey Vulture is the Black Vulture. The Black Vulture has a black bald head. Most of the Black Vulture wing appears black, except a few of the outer flight feathers which create large white-appearing patches near the outer edges of the wings. The wings of the Black Vulture are shorter and broader, and the tail is also shorter.