Turkey Vulture Quick Facts

Take a Look!

Dr. Kenneth Kramm is a member of our society and he has prepared an educational video on Turkey Vultures. It includes a song written and sung by Dr. Chordate with true and accurate information.

This video was actually made for Halloween so…

don’t get scared away!!!

+ Turkey vultures are among the most abundant raptors in the world. In other words, turkey vultures are one of the most successful birds of their size in the world.

+ Turkey vultures are non-aggressive, and generally do NOT kill. They will not hurt your pets or children. (There are a small number of accounts of turkey vultures killing live prey, but such instances are rare and involve extremely weak or helpless animals, like baby rats, grouse chicks, or small fish.)

+ Turkey vultures are masters of soaring flight – which is by far the most energetically efficient form of travel. In fact, flying turkey vultures use only slightly more energy than they do when standing on the ground doing nothing!

+ Turkey vultures, along with all other North and South American vultures, do not build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs on bare ground in concealed places, like caves or hollowed logs.

+ Vultures first appeared on earth about 40 to 50 million years ago, coinciding with the emergence of modern, grazing mammals (vulture food!).

+ Millions of turkey vultures that breed in the northern USA and Canada migrate each fall through Central America and into the tropics. They form a “river of raptors” in the air as they become concentrated over the thin sections of Central America – this is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet.

+ A group of vultures is called a “Venue”. Vultures circling in the air are a “Kettle”.

+ The turkey vulture has a highly developed sense of smell, a rare ability among birds. In one study in the tropics by David Houston, turkey vultures quickly found (usually within a day) many chicken carcasses placed under the forest canopy, and some of these were even hidden from view with dried leaves. Also, turkey vultures have been seen to dig up and feed on woodchucks killed and buried by farm equipment.

+ Vultures probably prevent the spread of disease. In one study in which vultures were fed disease-causing organisms, including anthrax, it was found that most bacteria were killed in the vutlures’ highly acidic stomachs. In essence, vultures eat and sterilize contaminated meat.

+ Vultures have excellent eyesight, but, like most other birds, they have poor vision in the dark. Turkey vultures find food both with their eyesight and sense of smell.

+ Vultures prefer to eat fairly fresh meat. They will turn their nose up at rotten meat if there is a fresher alternative available. They also prefer the meat of herbivorous animals, avoiding that of dogs and other carnivores.

+ The oldest known turkey vulture, Toulouse, is 38 years old, and lives at the San Francisco Zoo.

+ Circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a carcass. Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for long flights, searching for food, or playing.

+ Male and female turkey vultures are identical in appearance.

+ It is illegal to keep a vulture as a pet.

+ It is illegal to harm turkey vultures because the species is federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

For more information on the physiology of the vulture, including its general appearance, head, legs, habits, habitat and range, click here.

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