Turkey Vulture, the most widespread of the New World Vultures, is found
throughout most of the Americas (North and South). In certain areas it is
called “buzzard” and "Turkey buzzard”. The Turkey
Vulture received its common name from the resemblance of the adult's bald
red head and its dark plumage to that of the male Wild Turkey.1 Its life expectancy in the wild ranges upward
of 16 years, with a captive life span of over 30 years being possible.2
Turkey Vultures breed in March and into late spring.
Eggs are generally laid in a protected location such as a cliff, a cave, a
rock crevice, a burrow, inside a hollow tree, or in a thicket. Clutch Size
is typically 1 – 3 eggs that are 2.6” – 3” long and 1.7” – 2.1” wide. The
eggs are cream-colored, with brown or lavender spots. Incubation is 38 – 41
days. Chicks fledge between 65 – 90 days.
The Turkey Vulture, like most other vultures, has very
few vocalization capabilities. Because it lacks a syrinx, it can only utter
hisses and grunts. It usually hisses when it feels threatened. Grunts are
commonly heard from hungry young and from adults in their courtship display.
Their sense of smell is incredibly unique in the avian world and they
are particularly good at picking up the scent of ethyl mercaptan (a gas
produced by animals beginning to decay). The olfactory lobe of a turkey
vulture is well developed when compared to other avian species which helps
allows a turkey vulture to actually detect odors up to 12 miles away.3
Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a shallow V-shape
while soaring and riding thermals.
Turkey Vultures are large dark birds, 25” long with long, broad wings
that measure approximately 72” from tip to tip. The Turkey Vulture’s head is
red and unfeathered. The yellowish bill is hooked. The plumage is dark brown
except for paler flight feathers, appearing black and gray. They have short,
With its substantial distribution throughout the Americas, the Turkey
Vulture is a generalist in its habitat choices and can be found in open and
semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrub lands, pastures, and
deserts. They typically like to stay in areas with open land with nearby
areas such as forests for roosting. In the northeastern US, Turkey Vultures
can be seen riding thermals over open farmland, the Adirondacks and along
lake and ocean shorelines. They are particularly noticeable along roadsides
and at landfills.
Generally, Turkey Vultures can be found from Southern Canada to the southern
tip of South America. Certain of its populations do migrate. In upstate New
York, Turkey Vultures show up in early Spring and generally leave in early
winter. These northern birds may
migrate as far south as South America. In the southern United States the
Turkey Vulture is a permanent resident.
Diet: The Turkey Vulture is a
scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion which can be almost any
animal – mammal, reptile, fish, etc. Turkey Vultures almost never attack