- A-Z Animals
The turkey vulture is one of the most widespread species of New World vultures. They get their name from their bright red head, similar to a turkey. Like other vultures, they are scavengers who feast on dead and decayed flesh.
It is sometimes referred to as the turkey buzzard in certain parts of North America, while in the Caribbean, it is often called the John crow or the carrion crow. There are several sub-species including the Chilean turkey vulture, the western turkey vulture, the tropical turkey vulture, and the eastern turkey vulture.
Size: Length: 24–32 in (62–81 cm)
Weight: 1.8 to 5.3 lb (0.8 to 2.41 kg)
Wingspan: 63–72 in (160–183 cm)
Body and Coloration: The bright red head of the turkey vulture is small compared to the rest of its body. The beak is short and hooked, with an ivory coloration. Their eyes have an incomplete pair of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower eyelid. The irises of their eyes are greyish-brown.
The legs and feet of this vulture are usually pinkish-red, though they mostly appear white as a result of being covered with their feces.
The plumage is greyish black, though the underside appears lighter when they are in flight. Also, while flying, the tail seems tall and slim.
These vultures are found throughout the Americas, ranging from southern Canada to Cape Horn in Chile.
They are found in open woodlands, which allow them to fly with ease with no trees to bother them. Also, these habitats allow for them to easily roost and nest on the ground. Their preferred habitats include open grasslands, deserts, foothills, shrublands, and wetlands.
Like all vultures, these birds primarily feed on carrion. They prefer the dead flesh of mammals but have also been observed consuming dead amphibians, birds, fish, insects, and reptiles as well.
Sometimes, when food source remain scarce, they will feed on plant matter like fruits and shoreline vegetation.
On average, a turkey vulture lives for 16 years in the wild There have been reports of turkey vultures living for up to 45 years in captivity.
Turkey vultures have few natural predators, including bald eagles, golden eagles, great horned eagles, and red-tailed hawks. Sometimes foxes and dogs are capable of killing turkey vultures, though this is quite rare.
The mating period of this vulture varies, with those found in the southern US breeding from March to June. Meanwhile, the vultures residing further up north begin their mating period much later, continuing till August.
Several turkey vultures of both sexes will form a circle and begin hopping while flapping their wings as part of a ritual to attract a mate. Nesting sites tend to be in easily protected areas like burrows, caves, cliffs, inside hollow trees, rock crevices, and thickets.
In general, females lay 2 eggs, though the average is between one and three. These eggs are cream-colored, with brown or lavender markings on their ends. Once 30-40 days pass in which both parents incubate the eggs, they hatch. At birth, the chicks are helpless, depending wholly on their parents for food for around 10-11 weeks. After approximately 70-80 days, the fledglings transition into their juvenile stage. The juveniles become independent a week later, though the family unit stays together until fall.
As per the IUCN, the turkey vulture is classified as “Least Concern” or “LC”.
They are under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the States. In Canada, they are protected by the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds. The Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals protects the vulture in Mexico.