Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura
Family Cathartidae

The turkey vulture, a common sight by highways, is instantly recognizable by its 6-foot wingspan and tendency to circle an area in groups.

Identifying Traits (both sexes):

  • Body very dark brown, nearly black
  • Bald, pink head
  • Sharp, whitish, hook-tipped bill
  • Reddish-pink legs and feet
  • Wings two-toned from below – dark inner wings, paler outer wings
  • Glides for long periods without flapping
  • Holds wings in a slight upturned dihedral
  • Juvenile: Head and legs grayish rather than pink.
  • Size: 80 cm (32”)
  • Weight: 2.3 kg  (5.0 lbs)

Voice: Turkey vultures are almost entirely mute.  When nesting or feeding, they may issue a small range of hisses and grunts.

Habitat: Turkey vultures prefer open areas with high perches and plentiful updrafts.  They are most often seen by roadsides or cliffs.

Adult in flight

The turkey vulture is a year-round resident of most of the United States from New Jersey south, but it is common in New England during spring, summer, and early fall.

Interesting Facts: Although their vision (like that of most raptors) is good, turkey vultures have a truly prodigious sense of smell.  They can detect the odor of rotting meat in the air at concentrations of only a few parts per trillion.



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