Common Name
TURKEY VULTURE

Scientific Name
CATHARTES AURA

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Photo by Unknown Photographer
Photo Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, can be found throughout the Americas, from southern Canada to southern South America. In Utah, birds are present statewide during summer months, though usually absent from higher elevations; they migrate south for winter. They are often seen soaring in search of food in both forested and open habitats, but more commonly in the latter. They roost in large flocks at night in trees, frequently near or over water. Such roosts are not commonly seen, however, because they are often located away from human disturbance.

The turkey vulture eats mainly carrion (animals already dead), frequently of small animals such as amphibians and rodents, and can survive for over two weeks without food. It infrequently eats ripe or rotten fruits or kills small animals; food is located using sight and smell. The age at which birds reach sexual maturity is not known, though they likely do not reproduce until they are several years old. Eggs are laid in secluded areas such as caves, crevices in cliffs, or tree thickets. No nest is built, though there may be some preparation of the nest site. Usually there are two eggs, but sometimes one or three eggs are laid; both sexes incubate the eggs for 37 to 41 days. Both parents feed nestlings by regurgitation. Young are able to fly after about 11 weeks, though fledging is a gradual process. The family may stay together several months after young fledge. If a nest is lost, the parents do not re-nest.

Sources:

  • Kirk, D. A., and M. J. Mossman. 1998. Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Birds of North America 339: 32 pp.

  • Baicich, P. J., and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American Birds, Second Ed. Academic Press, San Diego. 347 pp.

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