Turkey Vulture General Information
Old World Vultures New World
Turkey Vulture Interesting Facts
Pictures of Turkey Vultures
The turkey vulture is recognized as one of North America’s largest birds of prey and one of the most common vultures in America.
There are two families of vultures, old world vultures; part of the Accepitridae family that includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks, and new world vultures, part of the family Catharitdae that includes the turkey vulture, the
black vulture, the California condor, the Andean condor, the King
vulture and storks.
There are substantial differences between old world vultures and new world
- Old world vultures have strong beaks and feet like their talon ancestors.
They are able to pick up a carcass with their claws and carry it off to eat it.
- New world vultures have weak chicken-like feet suitable for running on the ground.
It cannot lift food or carry it with its feet. These vultures can only step on the food to hold it in place while eating.
They also have thinner weaker beaks.
Turkey Vulture General Information
The turkey vulture is a gentle and non aggressive bird that is often seen standing with its
wings spread in a “horaltic pose” usually drying its
wings, warming its body or baking off bacteria.
Like storks, the turkey vulture defecates on its own legs using evaporation of the water in the feces and urine to cool itself down.
They excrete a high concentration of uric acid that acts as a sanitizer that kills any bacterial it picks up while getting its food.
It is very tolerant of certain synthetic poisons that have been used to kill coyotes and
The turkey vulture gets its name because of its red bald head that resembles the male wild turkey.
The female is slightly larger than the male. Identified by its red head and brownish black body feathers, the turkey vulture’s wings are brown around the edges and a silvery color when spread out and in flight.
Its head is small in proportion to its body. This vulture's head is bald because it often sticks its head into a carcass to reach its meat.
If it had a feathery head, it would capture unwanted pieces of the meal as well as bacteria.
They have a yellowish bill and reddish legs, while its young have a gray head, gray bill, and gray legs and are covered in pure white down when born.
Adults are about 30 inches long, weigh around two pounds and has a wing span of six feet.
The nest of the turkey vulture is usually found on a cliff, on the ground in caves, crevices, in mammal burrows, in hollow trees, in thickets and in abandoned buildings.
Adult females lay two cream colored eggs with brown spots on the larger end.
Both parents sit on the eggs and the young are born forty days later.
Baby vultures feed on regurgitated food and are able to fly after about ten weeks.
Turkey vultures are highly social animals and prefer to roost in large colonies in dead trees, cell phone towers, rooftops and porch coverings.
Graceful in flight, the turkey vulture can soar up to six hours without flapping its wings.
Occasional flaps and takeoffs are quite laborious and often make them fall victim to predators and cars.
They leave their perch after the morning air has warmed and circle upward searching for warm air pockets that carries them upward in rising circles.
Once at the top, they dive across the sky at sixty miles per hour, losing altitude until they reach another warm air pocket.
Vultures are sometimes recognized because of their circling in the air over carcasses, however this circling does not necessarily mean there is a presence of a carcass.
They may be gaining altitude for a long flight, searching for food or just playing.
While soaring, the turkey vulture holds its wings in a v-shaped formation and tip from side to side.
The infrequency of them flapping their wings is easy to identify from a distance.
They soar in open areas watching for dead animals. Unlike other birds, they use its sense of smell as well as its vision to locate carrion, or animal carcasses.
They fly low to the ground to pick up scent of mercaptan (the gas produced by the beginnings of decay of dead animals.)
Turkey vultures do not feed on live animals, unlike its cousin the black
vulture. They primarily feed on carrion from small mammals to dead cows.
Turkey vultures also feed on plant matter, vegetation, pumpkins, crops and live insects. They are usually seen along the roadsides near road kill or near rivers feasting on washed-up fish.
After a meal, it perches in the sun to bake off any bacteria it picked up while
The turkey vulture does not have any vocal organs. It hisses when threatened and grunts when hungry or when adults are courting each other.
Its primary form of defense is vomiting, or coughing up semi-digested meat.
The foul smelling vomit deters most predators intent on raiding their nest.
It is not known if this act is to specifically scare a predator or simply to lighten its load before fleeing and taking flight.
Found throughout the US but mainly year long in the south, the turkey vulture will migrate to South America during the winter.
They are currently protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. This is
an important fact to remember if control measures are necessary for turkey
vultures that have become pests.
Turkey Vulture Interesting Facts:
The turkey vulture forges alone unlike the American Black
Vulture. One on one at a carcass, the turkey vulture will dominate the black vulture, but since the black vulture forges in groups it often overtakes the turkey vulture and takes most of the food.
- A group of vultures is called a “venue”
- A group circling in the air is called a “kettle”
- Turkey vultures have excellent eyesight, but poor vision in the dark.
- The turkey vulture is most damaging to aircrafts. NASA is currently taking action to prevent vultures and other birds from striking the shuttle during liftoff, because of the damage it causes.
Precautions are also being taken at airports.
Controlling Turkey Vultures That Have Become Pests
Due to their destructive nature or posing threats to aircraft, turkey
vultures often become a pest that needs controlling. These birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act of
1918 which prohibits the use of some control methods.
The most effective method of control involves the use of a combination of
professional repellers. Combining sound deterrents with visual deterrents
will bring better results, by far.
The best sound deterrents are those which have a variety; having a variety of
sounds keeps pest birds from becoming accustomed to any one sound or type of
sound. (There are sonic and ultra-sonic sounds to consider.)
Bird-X has developed a great bird repeller unit that uses three basic types of
sounds, with dozens of variations or combinations possible in one unit.
Ultra-sonic is a very good repeller yet it has its limitations: the sound
travels in straight lines without bending around or going through objects.
Used as a stand alone bird repeller, ultrasonic units usually fail in the long
term as birds (especially smart birds) will get accustomed to the irritating
Combining ultrasonic with audible scare is the best way to repel Turkey Vultures
and keep them under control.
The Broadband Pro (sometimes called BB Pro) is the
Bird-X took its best three bird repellers and combined them into one super
outdoor unit: Ultrasonix (outdoor ultrasonic
repeller), Critter Blaster Pro
(synthetic type sounds used to repel animals or birds) and Super
BirdXpeller Pro (natural sounding birds in distress as well as predator bird
sounds) put together:
It is very difficult for birds to become accustomed to this combination of
audible deterrents. The Broadband Pro has become
the industry's top choice for repelling unwanted or nuisance wildlife such as
the Turkey Vulture. The BB Pro is used to protect sports complexes,
airports, casinos as well as communities or municipal buildings where birds have
become a problem or possible hazard.
Thanks to Lani Powell for research and writing this turkey vulture article.
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