The Turkey Vulture is distinguished for its hissing sounds, and is also known as the Turkey Buzzard in North America. This scavenger is one of the largest birds in North America. The bird may not be considered by many to be pretty, and although it has a bare-skinned face, it has beautiful wings and looks very graceful when it soars across the blue skies.
The female is generally larger in size than the male. This bird is black in color, and has beautiful long wings with a longish tail to match as well. The feathers are blackish brown in color. The flight feathers seen on the wings are a shade of silver-gray on the underneath. On an average, an adult is around 66 - 81 cm in length, and has a wingspan of about 173 - 183 cm. The weight can be said to be approximately around 1.4 kg.
The head appears smaller in size as compared to its whole body. The head is reddish in color and is almost bare skinned. The eyes of this bird are a shade of grayish brown. The upper eyelid has one row of eyelashes, whereas, the lower one has two. It has a hooked bill, which is ivory in color. The feet are flat and are not really well suited to grasp. The frontal two toes are long and also have a small web at their base. The legs and the feet are pinkish in color.
This bird is not really aggressive in nature and loves to soar across the sky. Generally, around hundreds of Turkey Vultures may roost together in groups. They are known to roost on dead trees or even in caves. The first form of self-defense for this bird is by regurgitating the semi-digested food, which causes a foul smell. This foul smell prevents many predators from approaching its nest. Another strange behavior observed is the process of defecating on its own legs. Such a kind of behavior has also been noticed in storks. This is primarily done so that it creates a cooling effect on the legs and for the body as well.
It is also seen standing with its wings spread out. This is known as the spread-winged stance. There are various reasons why it uses this pose. It helps the bird to dry its wings, which also helps it to warm its body. It also helps it to get rid of bacteria. This bird can be distinguished because of its soaring habits, and it also does not always flap its wings for flight. Instead, it uses the rising thermals to keep soaring. It communicates with the help of hissing sounds. This is generally done when it feels threatened.
The Turkey Vulture is known to prefer wide, open spaces, and can also be found near coastlines. This bird can be found in many areas of America; from the Southern side of Canada to Cape Horn. Some birds prefer to migrate to South America at times. They are also found in the forest and desert areas. This bird has to make a lot of efforts before it takes flight. It needs to flap its large wings and hop about. When in flight, the wings form the shape of a V.
It very rarely kills its own prey. These birds are often seen feeding on fish that are washed up on the shore or even insects. They also feed on small mammals. It has a special ability to be able to locate a certain gas that is produced by decaying animals. This habit makes these birds an important part of the ecosystem. It generally soars for a larger part of the day, and uses its excellent eyesight along with the sense of smell to locate food.
The breeding period begins from the month of March and goes on till June. On an average, the female lays around 2 eggs, which are cream in color. Both parents look after the young chicks once they hatch. To be able to get a prospective mate, the Turkey Vulture follows some set patterns, such as gathering in a circle and hopping around, which is followed by flapping of the wings.
The population of the Turkey Vulture has seen an increase in the past few years. Let us hope that these birds do not ever face the danger of extinction.