The turkey vulture or Cathartes aura is one of the most common vultures found in America. Vultures are generally categorized as new world and old world vultures. The new world vultures belong to the family, Cathartidae, which includes Black vulture, the King vulture, storks, and the California Condor. On the other hand, the old world vultures include eagles, kites, hawks, and buzzards, which are the members of the family Accipitridae.
The new world vultures can be differentiated from their old world counterparts by the structure of their beaks and feet. The old world vultures have strong beaks and their feet possess sharp, hooked claws. On the contrary, the beak of the new world vultures are weaker, and their feet resemble those of chickens. Their feet allow them to hold food in place, but they cannot lift or carry the food to other places.
Turkey Vulture Information
They are widely found in North America, and are also known as turkey buzzards. The adult vulture can weigh up to 6 pound, and reach a length of 25 to 32 inches. The wingspan of an adult vulture can be about 6 feet. The name turkey is given to this bird due to its bald, red head that closely resembles the head of a wild turkey.
The feet of this vulture closely resemble the feet of a chicken, which the bird cannot use to lift or carry food. Instead, the feet of the turkey vulture are especially designed to hold food in place while eating. Apart from these, turkey buzzards have several other distinguishing characteristics. So, let's find out some fun facts about these vultures, and their habitat and diet.
They generally prefer wide open spaces, especially coastlines, deserts, and plains. However, they can live in a wide range of habitats, including tropical and temperate forests and grasslands. Turkey vultures are one of the most widely found new world vultures in the United States. They can also be found along the east and west coast of North Canada and Central South America.
Vultures are basically scavengers. They feed on carrion or carcasses of dead animals. Like other vultures, the turkey buzzard also survives on carrion. It usually thrusts the head inside the carcass. Here, the bald head of this vulture serves an important purpose. When the vulture thrusts its head inside the body cavity of the carcass, nothing adheres to its head due to the absence of hair. This helps keep the head clean.
If there would have been feathers on its head, these would have caught unwanted pieces of meat, thereby creating a favorable environment for the growth of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell, which enables them to find a carcass just within 24 hours of the death of the animal. They are also empowered with a sharp eyesight, which helps them search for food. If need arises, they can live on vegetation as well.
The female vultures usually lay 1 to 3 eggs in a year in spring. The incubation period is generally 38 to 41 days, after which the eggs hatch. All the responsibilities for incubating, as well as caring for the young ones are shared by both the parents. The young ones start flying or fledge within 70 to 80 days after hatching. They do not build nest for laying eggs; instead they lay eggs in caves or on the ground. An adult turkey vulture can live up to 16 years in wild, while in captivity, it can survive till 30 years.
They have limited vocalization capabilities, as they do not have vocal organs. Their vocalization is restricted to making hisses and grunts. A hiss is made when they sense danger and feel threatened. On the other hand, a grunt is made when they are hungry, and also while courting. Turkey buzzards are gentle birds. They basically use vomiting as a means of self-defense. So, whenever the bird feels threatened, it throws up semi-digested food. The foul smell of the semi-digested food forces the predator to move away. At the same time, the body weight of the bird gets reduced due to vomiting, which allows it to fly away quickly from the predator.
Turkey buzzards urinate on their legs. As they do not perspire like humans, the act of urinating on the legs helps cool them in summer. The strong acids present in the urine help kill the bacteria residing on the legs. The legs come in contact with bacteria when the bird treads on food or the bodies of dead and decaying animals. These vultures are often observed sitting on the trees with their wings spread, which is referred to as the 'horaltic pose'. They do this to warm their body and dry the wings. However, it also helps them destroy the bacteria present on the body by baking them off in the hot sun.
Turkey vultures are considered a pest mainly due to the threat they pose to aircraft. Because of their pest status, several methods like sound deterrents are employed to drive them away. However, restrictions have been imposed on the use of certain controlling methods or devices, in order to protect this bird under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.