Turkey Vulture – Carrion Cleaner

First published June 17, 2018

Not considered a beautiful bird, the common Turkey Vulture is a scavenger. It is also is an important part of the Deer Creek ecosystem. They do the dirty work of picking clean the dead.

Turkey Vulture & Turkey

The Turkey Vulture’s Latin name, Cathartes aura, means ‘breeze purifier.’ Its common name, ‘turkey’ is for the bird’s resemblance to the wild turkey. Vulture means ‘tearer.’ In flight, a group of vultures is a ‘kettle,’ and when feeding together, they are called a ‘wake.’

Turkey vultures inhabit both American continents. In the warmer climates, they remain throughout the year.  In colder areas, they are migratory.

Photo credit: Docent Joyce – vulture ‘committee,” volt,’ or ‘venue’

Diet

Vulture food consists of freshly dead animals of about their own size or smaller. A unique adaptation is an acute sense of smell that can locate carcasses up to eight miles away.

Behavior

Social animals related to hawks and eagles, they eat, soar, mate, and roost in groups, heading off alone when searching for a meal.

With large wingspans and bodies, they wait for warm thermals before taking to the air. This economizes wing flapping.

Predators

Full grown Turkey Vultures have few predators. In junior states of life they can fall prey to raccoons, opossums, red-tailed hawks, eagles, and great horned owls.

Reproduction

Breeding season in our climate can last from March through August. Both males and females care for young, regurgitating food for the chicks for about two-and-a-half months.

 

Other Turkey Vulture Adaptations

horaltic pose

  • lowering body temperature at night – becoming slightly hypothermic
  • horaltic pose for warming, appearing larger to threats, and UV sterilization of feathers
  • no voicebox (syrinx) – communicates with hissing and grunts
  • noxious smelling barf – repels threats
  • urohydrosis – noxious smelling pee – repels threats, cools legs, kills bacteria from walking on dead animals
  • bald heads – cleanliness after burying face in a carcass
  • boney shield covering nose
  • ability to clear nostril when it becomes clogged

Cellphone video & stills of Turkey Vultures off Newtown Rd. May & June 2018.

click here to see more Turkey Vulture Life on the Creek art

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For a short, humorous, Turkey Vulture text love story, click here.

Resources:

Internet Bird Collection – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Peregrine Fund – Turkey Vulture

Wikipedia – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Wildlife Center – vulture facts

live ebird recorded Turkey Vulture sightings along Deer Creek

 

 

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