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Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

  • Order: Cathartiformes
  • Family: Cathartidae
  • Polytypic: 4 subspecies
  • Authors needed...
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  • © Kester Clarke

Perhaps no other species in the New World is as widespread and easily seen as the Turkey Vulture. It ranges from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, as well as the Falkland Islands!, this species is one of the most visible of all birds species in the Americas. Part of this is that it does not shy from villages and settlements; in fact it may be commoner near human habitation than in truly wild areas. It is a red-headed vulture with extremely long wings which it holds in a shallow “V” (dihedral), this flight style allows it to fly close to the ground in turbulent areas, and to soar in tight circles if it needs to catch a small thermal for lift. Turkey Vultures seldom flap, and are adept at traveling long distances on rising columns of air as they look for food which is carrion. They have a sensitive sense of smell, and appear to find much of their food from odor rather than visually. Given that this species has such a wide distribution it is not unusual to find that it has marked geographic variation. Much of this is on the color of the naked head. Northern birds are red headed, sometimes with white “warts” on the snout; the tropical populations have a dull red head and a whitish stripe on the nape; the southern temperate populations show a deep red, almost purplish-red head color. Given that other vultures in this genus are separated largely on size and coloration of the head, it is not improbable that these three head color types may in fact represent separate species rather than subspecies groups!

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Juvenile hiss

© Dolly Minis

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  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/turvul