Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Turkey Vultures

Cathartes aura

What is a Turkey Vulture?  The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a large, dark brown-black bird with a bald, red head. The flight feathers are pale grey on the underside and appear as a light band along the edge of the wings when you see them flying above. The Turkey Vulture is very widespread in the Americas, with its range stretching from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America.

turkey vultures soaringturkey vultures

What do Turkey Vultures eat? Turkey Vultures eat mostly carrion (dead animals). Unlike their relatives, the Black Vultures, it is very uncommon to see a Turkey Vulture kill or eat anything still living. You'll often find them feeding along roadsides, in open fields, and along streams, all areas where dead animals can be found.

How do Turkey Vultures find their food? Turkey Vultures are amazing! They have incredibly good eyesight and a highly developed sense of smell. They typically find their food by the smell rotting carcasses give off and they can see carrion from high in the air. Once they locate a carcass, they will fly down to feed.

How do Turkey Vultures stay cool? Turkey Vultures live in some very hot places and occasionally need to cool down. They do so by urinating or defecating on their own legs! As they fly, they release wastes onto their legs. Fluids in the wastes then evaporate, cooling the blood vessels in the feet and lowering the overall temperature of the bird.

Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive.

Vulture photo by Dori, used under Creative Commons license.