Turkey Vulture: Species Profile

An experienced Everglades bird photographer must have quite a portfolio. He must have photographed the Purple Gallinule, in all its violet and green iridescence, padding the giant floating leaves of spatterdock. He must have photographed dozens of Roseate Spoonbills, feeding like pink vacuum cleaners along the edge of Mrazek Pond at the right time of year. And he must have photographed the Bald Eagle on a beeline flight to steal an Osprey's catch.

Indeed, he has photographed all of these. Now, he seeks a more challenging subject--Turkey Vulture nesting. He struggles through miles of marsh to a remote hardwood hammock, and pushes through the wall of tangled foliage at its periphery. Inside, he spots his quarry. An adult vulture broods two pale eggs splotched with brown, laid on a simple scrape in the soil. As the photographer approaches to within a few yards, the bird squats lower and hisses . The photographer reaches into his knapsack for his camera. He steadies it, makes the proper adjustments, and prepares to release the shutter.

But the vulture has a different agenda--the defense of its eggs. Before the photographer can shoot, he stands stiffly, a horrified expression pasting his face. For now he is covered-- from neck to kneecaps--in vulture vomit.


The Turkey Vulture is distinguished by its bald red head and in flight, by the silvery coloration on the undersides of the wings. As it soars, this bird holds its wings slightly upward, giving it a shallow "V" profile. The other vulture in the area, the Black Vulture, has a bald black head, a large white spot at the tip of each wing, and holds its wings more-or-less straight out from its body while in flight.

Vultures are primarily scavengers, feeding on dead animals. As you drive along the Main Park Road, notice how they often soar nearly evenly-spaced from each other, sometimes miles apart. When a vulture sees or smells food, others may be watching and may move in that direction. Soon, a large group of vultures may be circling gracefully over a carcass. Turkey Vultures seem better able to locate food, but once food is found, the more aggressive Black Vultures usually appear and drive the Turkey Vultures off.

Last updated: October 17, 2017

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