Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a very large bird at a length of 25 inches and a 72 inch wingspan. These broad wings allow the vulture to soar in the skies for great lengths of time. At intervals, the vulture will flap its wings slowly and then continue to soar. Both the males and females are similar in appearance, with the females generally larger than the males. They have bills that are of average length and are hooked at the tip. Their heads are red in color and have no plumage, with short red legs and are predominantly dark brown to black in color. Even though this scavenger of the sky is not much to look at, it is their graceful flight ability that attracts us to this species, as many of the practiced adult vultures rarely need to flap their wings, instead they are able to ride the wind elegantly while searching larges areas for food.
Turkey Vultures are commonly found throughout Northern America and Canada, and have also been sighted in South and Central America. These vultures are usually solitary hunters, and prefer rocky cliffs, open ranges, open forest areas, and can also be seen at near agricultural regions at times. The coastal shores will also be searched for any washed up fish or dead seals. But mostly they will feed on domestic and wild carrion, and eating takes place on the ground, as their claws are too weak to carry their food to another location. Vultures will often fly close to ground, as they use their sense of smell to pick up blood and other odors that can lead them to the dead animal. This ability to process smell makes it possible for the Turkey Vulture to locate food under the forest canopies. They will only eat dead animals and contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily mean that there is a dead animal. Vultures often circle the skies during play, to gain altitude and to search for their food.
Turkey Vultures will either nest on the ground or in caves. Nests are not built or constructed, but hollows are dug into the ground or in the cave soil. Vultures that live near agricultural lands will often use sheds or barns to offer protection to their nest. The female vulture can lay one to three eggs, but most commonly lays two. Both the male and female vultures will care for the eggs during the incubation period that can last for 38 to 41 days. Parents will feed the chicks regurgitated food, and chicks will fledge the nest between 70 to 80 days after hatching.