TURKEY VULTURE – (Cathartes aura) – (See images below)DESCRIPTION: The Turkey Vulture plumage is black-brown. Head is naked and bright red. Bill is white, short and hooked. Nostrils are pervious, i.e. wide open to allow a better sense of smell. Legs and feet are pinkish. Sexes are similar. Length is around 80 cm (30 inches).
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Cathartes-aura – Vultures lack a voice organ, so the capacity for emitting sounds is very limited.
NAME: English name due to similarity with the male Wild Turkey. ‘Vulture’ means ‘to tear’ in Latin, in reference to bird’s feeding habits. Latin genus name ‘Cathartes’ means ‘purifier’, and Latin species name ‘aura’ would be the Spanish name for the bird.
HABITAT: Open areas such as fields, roadsides and landfills.
DIET: Road kills, carcasses.
NESTING: Nest is placed in crevices, tree cavities, caves, abandoned nests, even on buildings. Around two creamy eggs are laid, incubated by both parents, who also both feed the young.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeding range includes southern Canada and most of the USA except the south. Year-round resident from southern USA to south tip of South America.
Distribution map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_vulture#/media/File:Turkeyvulturerange.jpg
ON PEI: Does not breed on Prince Edward Island, rare.
CONSERVATION: Widespread and common, not at risk. Were severely impacted by DDT, but recovered following that pesticide ban. Because of their, can get poisoned by the lead from some of the carcasses they feed on, or by the poisons used to kill that animal.
NOTES: The turkey vulture is a New World scavenger bird. Turkey vultures soar effortlessly, taking advantage of thermals. In flight, they are easy to identify due to the two well-defined colors of their wings, black at the base and silvery for the flight feathers. Spread their wings when perched and bask in the sun. Defecate on their own legs to keep them cool.
This bird species has the rare ability (for a bird) to detect its food (carcasses) by smell, and it has a large olfactory bulb in the brain developed for that purpose. Due to an unproven belief some farmers fear that they kill young animals, but they only feed on carcasses. Another fear is that they spread diseases among farm animals, but this too has been demonstrated to be untrue. What is true is that they will follow black vultures, which DO kill animals sometimes.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Black Vulture, Golden Eagle (in flight)
REFERENCES: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cathartes_aura/ (University of Michigan)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/turkey-vulture (Missouri Department of Conservation)
Wildlife in Ontario (Turkey Vulture)
|Turkey vulture in flight, Jodi Arsenault|
|Turkey vulture in flight, Stratford, CT|