The Turkey Vulture, Cathartes
aura, is the most common North American vulture.
It is an extremely graceful bird in flight. It
seldom needs to flap its long wings once airborne,
but soars high overhead looking for carcasses.
Despite the similar name and appearance, this
species is unrelated to the Old World vultures
in the family Accipitridae, which includes eagles,
hawks, kites and harriers. The American species
is a New World vulture in the family Cathartidae.
These large birds of prey are mostly brownish
black, but the flight feathers are gray, creating
a contrasting pattern. The head is small in proportion
to the body and has no feathers on it; adults'
heads are red and immatures' are black. The birds
have a wing span of about 2 metres. While soaring,
they hold their wings in a V-shape and often tip
"drunkenly" from side to side, sometimes
causing the gray flight feathers to look silvery
as they catch the light. The flight style, small-headed
and narrow-winged silhouette, and underwing pattern
make this bird easy to identify at great distances.
The Turkey Vulture is found in open and semi-open
areas throughout the Americas from southern Canada
to Cape Horn. It is a permanent resident in the
southern United States but northern birds may
migrate as far south as South America.
These birds soar over open areas, watching for
dead animals or other scavengers at work. Unlike
most other birds, they also rely on smell to help
locate their food. They also eat some vegetation.
The nesting site is in a protected location:
on a cliff, inside a hollow tree or in a thicket.
There is little or no construction of a nest.
Females lay two eggs, cream-colored with brown
spots. Both parents incubate, and the young hatch
at around 40 days. The adults regurgitate food
for them and care for them for 10 to 11 weeks.
Often, small to large groups of these birds spend
the night at communal roosts. Favoured locations
may be reused for many years.
This bird got its common name because the adult's
bald red head was thought to resemble that of
a male Wild Turkey.
In the United States, this species receives special
legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty
Act of 1918.
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