Cathartes aura
(Turkey Vulture)


Order: (Ciconiiformes*) Falconiformes
Order Description: New World Vultures
Family: Cathartidae
Family Description: Vultures

Species Update:
*Cathartidae species are now officially considered Ciconiiformes. In other words, New World vultures (i.e., Turkey Vulture, Condors, etc.) have been genetically found to be related to storks and not hawks in DNA research on convergent evolutionClick word for definition.

Physical Description:
26-32" (66-81 cm). Large, black bird with a red, featherless face and a pale, downcurved bill; yellow feet. In flight, wings show lighter primary feathers.

Similar Species- Black Vulture, Swainson's Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk

Song:
Occasionally hisses.

Distribution:
Breeds from southern British Columbia, east to southern Manitoba and New England, and south through U.S. and Middle America to South America. Winters mainly from northern California, Arizona, Ohio Valley, and Maryland south to South America.

Habitat:
Found in forested and open situations (more commonly in latter), from lowlands to mountains. In Idaho, occupies broad valley and mountain areas.

Diet:
Eats mainly vertebrate carrion; prefers fresh meat. Sometimes eats ripe or rotten fruits.

Ecology:
Uses scant nest on cliff or standing snag. May roost singly, or in large flocksClick word for definition in trees at night; roostsClick word for definition are often near or over water. In Maryland/Pennsylvania study, average distance between communal roost and feeding site was 8 km. Roosts may be temporary (at food source), seasonal (spring-fall), or permanent. In one study, most individuals left roost 3.5-5 hr after sunrise. Individual may remain at roost up to 2 or more days during rainy weather. Locates food visually, or by odor. Hunts at 60 m, but migrates between 1200-1500 m. Light wing loading permits ease of flight. Species is resistant to botulismClick word for definition.

Reproduction:
Both sexes incubateClick word for definition 2 eggs (usually) for 5-6 wk. Young first fly at about 9 wk. Family may stay together several months after young fledgeClick word for definition.

Conservation:
Element Code: ABNKA02010
Status: Protected nongame species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4,NTMB
National Rank: N5B,N5N

Important References:
AOU Checklist, 1998, 7th Ed..


Additional Information by C. Trost.2000.
Photo by C. Trost, ©1998.
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.