Turkey Vulture

(Cathartes aura)

The Turkey Vulture belongs to the family of New World Vultures. Their scientific name Cathartes aura comes from the Latin "purifying breeze". They can be found from the southern tip of South America through out the Americas to the lower regions of Canada. In our local area they are commonly seen soaring on the thermals rising up from the foothills. Turkey Vultures keep cool in the heat of the day by a process called urohidrosis in which they defecate/urinate on their non-feathered legs and feet to cool the blood running through surface vessels by evaporation. This process usually causes the white apprearance of their legs and feet from the uric acid in material expelled.

While roosting at night Turkey Vultures lower their body temperature by as much as 6° to a temperature of about 34° Celsius (93°F). This may explain their behavior of spreading their wings open in the early morning as the sun rises to soak up heat before taking flight. It is also thought that this sun-bathing behavior may help to bake the bacteria from their wings and dry them from dampness. Because Turkey Vultures do not have a syrinx (which is the vocal organ of birds) they only produce sound of low grunts and hisses. These sounds are usually made when threatened or during courting rituals.

Size = 24 to 32 in.

Weight = 1.8 to 5.1 lb.

Wingspan = 63 to 72 in

Diet consists of carrion which they locate by smell.
In much of the southern US resides year-round. Northern birds (typically in the west) can migrate long distances without feeding, some reaching South America. Western birds migrate in flocks.
Turkey Vultures do not build nests but rather choose a favorable location that is isolated and typically much cooler than surroundings (by 13°F or more).

Nest Location = rock crevices, caves, ledges, thickets, mammal burrows and hollow logs, fallen trees, abandoned hawk or heron nests, and abandoned buildings.

Clutch size = 1 to 3 eggs. 1 brood

Incubation = 28 to 40 days.

Fledging = 9 to 10 weeks.


  1. "Turkey Vulture, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Turkey Vulture". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Turkey Vulture". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.