PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 133, Summer 2003: Notes from the Field


Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Melissa Pitkin

Farallon Sea lion
Latin America
Oak Woodlands
Executive Director's Column
Focus on Seabirds
Findings: Salt Ponds
2003 Annual Meeting
Bird Bio

Turkey Vultures. © Keith Hansen

Characteristics: Two-tone wings: flight feathers silver-gray. Plumage of adults dark grayish brown, bare head reddish, feet and legs dark pinkish. Long tail extends beyond outstretched feet in flight. While soaring, wings are held in a shallow V.

Distribution: Common resident (non-migratory except in northerly areas), southern Canada to southern South America.

Feeding: Soars at high altitude over all types of terrain in search of carrion, using sense of smell as the primary way of locating food.

Song: Turkey Vultures lack a syrinx and intrinsic muscles for vocalization, yet they make hisses and grunts when disturbed at a nest site or carcass.

Life Span: At least 17 years, based on one adult banded and recovered 16 years later.

Behavior: Monogamous. Breeds in open habitats in both lowlands and mountains. Lays eggs on the ground, under cover. Nest sites are chosen in areas with no human disturbance. Both sexes incubate eggs and tend young. Roost communally throughout the year.

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