Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey buzzard, John crow, Carrion crow

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Cathartes aura
Life Span
16 yrs
TOP SPEED
48 km/h
WEIGHT
0.8-2.3 kg
LENGTH
62-81 cm
WINGSPAN
160–183 cm

Turkey vultures are large birds of a dark brown color, which from a distance seem black, with long, wide wings. There are long "fingers" at the tips of their wings and their long tails extend past their toes in flight. The head and neck have sparse bristles and is bright red in color. Their relatively large beak is a white color, while its sharp eyes are dull yellow. Most of their body is dark, as are the forewings but the undersides of its flight feathers (on the trailing edge and tips of the wings) are paler, creating a two-toned effect.

Distibution

Turkey vultures are found from Canada’s southern border to the southern most part of Tierra del Fuego in Chile. They are commonly seen in open spaces like roadsides, suburbs, countryside and farm fields, and around food sources such as trash heaps, landfills and construction sites.

Turkey Vulture habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Turkey vultures typically roost in large groups, but search independently for food, during daylight hours. Several hundred birds have been seen roosting together, sometimes along with black vultures. Populations living in colder areas migrate to warmer climates. They roost on dead, leafless trees, and sometimes nest in caves. A vulture is often seen standing with its wings spread, a stance believed to serve several purposes: warming the body, drying the wings, and baking off bacteria. These birds are majestic soarers; when flying their wings are slightly raised to form a “V”. They soar gracefully on thermals and may soar in a small group, roosting in larger numbers.

Lifestyle

Diet and Nutrition

The Turkey vulture mostly eats a wide range of carrion, which includes small mammals and large grazers, preferring recently dead animals and avoiding those that have reached a stage of putrefaction. It rarely feeds on plant matter, pumpkin and other crops, shoreline vegetation, invertebrates and live insects.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
March-June in North America
INCUBATION PERIOD
30-40 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
80-90 days
BABY NAME
Chick
BABY CARRYING
2 eggs

The Turkey vulture is monogamous, the mating-pair bond lasting for the breeding season, often for the whole year. Adult bonded pairs spend a great deal more time with each other than with any other vultures. The mating ritual begins with several birds gathering on the ground, hopping in a circle with their wings partially spread. A bird might in flight closely follow a possible mate while performing a ritual of diving and flapping. Breeding occurs in North America from March to June. Females usually lay two eggs, sometimes one, but rarely three. Both of the parents incubate the eggs, which hatch after about 30 to 40 days. The fledging stage is reached after 70 to 80 days and the birds are independent after about a week.

Population

Population threats

Most documented Turkey vulture deaths are caused by humans, including collisions with vehicles or structures, and entrapment in leg-hold traps and fencing. People sometimes destroy the roosts of turkey vultures. They sometimes die due to poisons or lead from dead animals that they eat, particularly lead shot in carcasses or piles of guts left by hunters. Some are trapped and killed due to mistaken fears that they are responsible for spreading disease.

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the Turkey vulture is around 18 million individuals. According to the Wikipedia resource the total population size of this species is around 4,500,000 individuals. Overall, currntly Turkey vultures are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today remain stable.

Ecological niche

As Turkey vultures are major eaters of carrion, they have an important part to play in biodegradation.

References

1. Turkey Vulture Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_vulture
2. Turkey Vulture on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22697627/0

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