The Turkey Vulture is a large bird with black feathers. The undersides of the flight feathers on the wings are silver or white in color, and can be seen only when the bird is flying. As its name suggests, the bird’s bald head resembles that of a turkey. Young Turkey Vultures have darker colored heads that change to red as the birds get older.
Turkey Vultures are an average of 25 inches in length, with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They can weigh as much as 8 pounds.
- Their keen senses of both smell and sight help Turkey Vultures to locate the rotting meat that they consume.
- Because this species does not kill in order to obtain food, its claws and feet alike have become rather weak appendages. They are used primarily for grasping.
- Although they appear akward when walking on the ground, Turkey Vultures are quite graceful in the air. They have the ability to soar for long periods of time while expending very little energy.
- The naked head of the vulture is also an adaptation which keeps the bird healthy. Because it often has to reach its head into a carcass to obtain food, feathers on the head would retain unwanted food and bacteria. Turkey Vultures also urinate on their legs to kill any bacteria they pick up by standing on a carcass.
Turkey Vultures are scavengers, exclusively eating carrion (dead animals). At Cosley Zoo, the Turkey Vultures are fed rats and quail.
Turkey Vultures nest between March and June when the weather is warm. They may nest on the ground or in a tree trunk. Turkey Vultures do not spend much time making nests and often find areas of broken sticks or grasses in which to lay their eggs. Females lay only 2 eggs during the nesting period. Both parents incubate the eggs for 38-41 days. After the chicks hatch, the parents feed them regurgitated food. Young Turkey Vultures leave the nest after 70-80 days.
Shelter and Space Needs
Turkey Vultures spend most of their time soaring over the land in search of the animal carcasses on which they feed. They roost in large trees or on buildings. These vultures mainly inhabit areas of deciduous forest with adjacent farmland or other open spaces.
Turkey Vultures can live approximately 20 years in the wild or in captivity.
Importance to Man
Turkey Vultures can be useful in discovering gas leaks. Vultures are attracted to the smell of rotten meat that is added to the gas. A group of vultures circling an area where a gas pipeline runs can be an indicator that there may be a leak. Turkey Vultures are also useful for removing dead carcasses before they pose a health risk to humans or other animals.
- Turkey Vultures have a strong acid in their stomach that helps to kill the bacteria in the dead food they eat. This stomach acid can kill many serious diseases such as anthrax and influenza.
- The Turkey Vulture is one of the most efficient gliding birds. By searching out pockets of air that will keep it aloft, the vulture can soar for hours without flapping its wings!
- The Turkey Vulture’s main defense is vomiting. If disturbed, it will throw up a foul smelling substance that deters many predators.
- The Turkey Vulture is one of the only birds on this continent that has a sense of smell.