Turkey Vulture

turkey vulture perched in a tree
Turkey vulture

NPS Photo

Cathartes aura

Turkey vultures are often seen along the side of the road picking at animals that have been killed by vehicles. These large birds are scavengers, which means that they prefer to eat carrion, the meat of dead animals. Turkey vultures can detect dead animals by smell but will also watch the behavior of other scavengers to locate food. They spend a lot of their time flying through the air in search of food and can travel as far as 200 miles in a day.

Turkey vultures are found in the southeastern United States year-round but can be found throughout the contiguous United States during the summer when they are breeding.

When looking for mates, turkey vultures will form a circle with several other birds on the ground and hop around with wings partially spread. Instead of building elaborate nests, females will lay the eggs in a protected place such as a hollow log or in dense vegetation. Females will usually lay two eggs, and both parents will help incubate the eggs and feed the chicks once they hatch.

vulture flying above a crescent moon with a pine tree in the foreground
Turkey vulture with a distant waning crescent moon

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

García-Jiménez, R., Pérez-García, J. M., & Margalida, A. (2018). Drivers of daily movement patterns affecting an endangered vulture flight activity. BMC ecology, 18(1), 1-15.

Kaufman, K. (2001). Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Vogel, H. H. (1950). Observations on social behavior in turkey vultures. The Auk, 67(2), 210-216.

Turkey Vultures in the National Parks

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