Turkey VultureCathartes aura

Rob Curtis/VIREO
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Richard Crossley/VIREO
Jukka Jantunen/VIREO
Turkey Vulture


25-32" (64-81 cm). W. 6' (1.8 m). Eagle-sized blackish bird, usually seen soaring over the countryside. In flight, the long wings are held upward in a wide, shallow V; flight feathers silvery below. Tail long; head small, bare, and reddish; gray in immatures. Similar to Black Vulture, but wings narrower; flaps wings less frequently and rolls and sways from side to side.


Usually silent; hisses or grunts when feeding or at nest.


hissing grunts #2
hissing grunts #1


Mainly deciduous forests and woodlands; often seen over adjacent farmlands.


Breeds from southern British Columbia, central Saskatchewan, Great Lakes, and New Hampshire southward. Winters in Southwest, and in East northward to southern New England.


The most common and widespread of the New World vultures, this species nests throughout all of the United States except northern New England. Soaring for hours over woodland and nearby open country, the Turkey Vulture searches for carcasses, locating them at least partly by means of its acute sense of smell. As they soar, these "buzzards" ride on rising columns of warm air called thermals to save energy as they cover miles of territory. The importance of this energy saving is clear from the fact that we seldom see a Turkey Vulture on a windless day, when thermals do not form. Turkey Vultures are valuable for their removal of garbage and disease-causing carrion. At night they often gather in large roosts.


2 whitish eggs, heavily marked with dark brown, placed without nest or lining in a crevice in rocks, in a hollow tree, or in a fallen hollow log.

Similar Species


Zone-tailed Hawk

18 1/2 -21 1/2" (47-55 cm). W. 4' (1.2 m). A mainly black hawk with long narrow wings held in a shallow V like those of a Turkey Vulture. Adults have 3 or 4 pale bands in tail.


Black Vulture

22-24" (56-61 cm). W. 4'6" (1.4 m). Black, with white patch near each wing tip, conspicuous in flight; head bare, grayish; feet extend beyond the short tail.


Bald Eagle

30-31" (76-79 cm). W. 6-7' 6" (1.8-2.3 m). A large blackish eagle with white head and tail and heavy yellow bill.


California Condor

45-55" (1.1-1.4 m). W. 8' 6"-9' 6" (2.6-2.9 m). Largest flying bird in North America with a wing spread of more than 9 feet.


Golden Eagle

30-41" (76-104 cm). W. 6' 6" (2 m). A large, all-dark eagle with a pale golden nape. Bill smaller and darker than that of Bald Eagle.


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