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Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Length: 26 to 32 inches Wingspan: 68 to 72 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Two-toned underwing, with dark wing-linings and white flight feathers, bare reddish head.

Turkey Vulture - Cathartes auraThe Turkey Vulture is a carrion feeder most often seen in flight, soaring on thermals as it searches for food, rarely needing to flap its wings.   They often congregate and forage around highways where roadkills are frequent.   They use a very strong sense of smell to locate carrion.

Habitat: Open country, woods, deserts.  Avoids dense unbroken forest, but prefers nesting and roosting sites within a few miles of foraging sites. 

Diet: Mostly carrion.  Occasionally feeds on insects, fish, or other easily caught live prey.

Behavior: Soars over open or semi-open country in search of carrion.  Carrion may be found by either sight or smell. 

Nesting: May through July. The nest of a Turkey Vulture is usually just a site on a rocky ledge, a cliff, a hollow in a tree, or sometimes in or on a man-made object like a building or tower.  No formal nest is built on the site, other than sometimes a few bits of debris.  The female usually lays 2 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young by regurgitation.  The young fledge after about 10 weeks.

Song: Generally silent.

Migration: Permanent resident in much of the southeastern U.S., but northern populations migrate as far as South America in the fall.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Turkey Vulture sightings

Similar Species: Black Vulture

Feeders: Will attend feeders for deer carcass and assorted roadkill (Just kidding!!)

Status: Numbers have increased in recent decades, and they're expanding their range.  Overall populations are not threatened, and the IUCN lists the Turkey Vulture as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Turkey Vulture

2) WhatBird - Turkey Vulture

3) Audubon Guide - Turkey Vulture

Photo Information: September 17th, 2004 -- Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Turkey Vulture photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Turkey Vulture - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant and summer resident throughout the state.

Additional Turkey Vulture Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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