Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture
The photo of the turkey vulture profile, by Robert Bernstein, and others can be viewed at the Vulture Society, an organization dedicated to promote scientific studies of the life habits and needs of t

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are large birds, with a 5 - 6 foot wingspan and weighing in at 4 - 5 pounds. They appear black at a distance yet are more dark brown than black in coloration. Their heads have no feathers, revealing a red flesh color. They have long, broad wings. These birds are larger than most common Midwest raptors, except for eagles. Their long wings look scalloped with points at their wingtips. The vulture's tail extends past its toe in flight. In flight, the Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a 'V' body formation, while eagles hold their wings straight.

As warmer climatic conditions and increased road-killed animals become common in the upper Midwest, these birds are extending their range northward.

The Turkey Vulture is one of the few birds of prey that can use its sense of olfaction (smell) to locate food. They are almost entirely carrion eaters and feed on medium-sized dead animals. These birds use their sight and acute sense of smell to find food during low level soaring flights. If feeding on decaying dead animals is not disgusting enough, these birds are known to defecate on their own legs to cool down.

Turkey Vulture from EOL.org (Encyclopedia of Life)This vulture nests primarily on the ground under bushes, or piles of fallen tree limbs. The female lays 2 eggs that are incubated for 38 - 41 days. Unlike most birds of prey, the chicks are fed regurgitated food. Turkey vultures have the unique capability of traveling long distances and then regurgitate partly digested carrion food. The young vultures fledge in 10 - 11 weeks.

Turkey vultures use diverse habitats. In Nebraska they are commonly seen in open habitats. They easily become familiar in suburban and urbanized locations. Since these birds prey upon dead animals and do not nest on structures they should be recognized as a welcome sight to the acreage.

Turkey Vulture
The photo of the soaring turkey vulture is from the Encyclopedia of Life, another excellent resource.
Image of Dennis Ferraro
Dennis Ferraro
Professor of Practice - Conservation Biologist/Herpetologist and Community Engagement Coordinator

Dennis Ferraro is the resident herpetologist and an professor of practice at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln School of Natural Resources. He has been a UNL faculty member since 1990.

Dennis is located at:
415 Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
Lincoln NE
68583-0974
402-472-8248