Turkey Vultures

iStock-Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura)
The Turkey Vulture is the large bird you see soaring low in the sky, wobbling back and forth with very few wing beats. These birds are a dark brown, almost black from a distance, with featherless red head’s and a pale bill. Their wings are long and broad with the long feathers on the end that look almost like fingers from a distance.

Turkey Vultures can usually be found in open areas of mixed farmland, forest, rangeland, along roadsides, and at landfills. At night they roost in trees, on rocks, and other high secluded spots. They don’t build nests the way many birds do, but they use rock crevices, caves, ledges, thickets, mammal burrows and hollow logs, fallen trees, abandoned hawk or heron nests, and abandoned buildings. While these birds may feed near civilization, they prefer to nest far away from it. They lay 1-3 eggs at a time, and it takes 2-3 months to raise the chicks to be able to fend for themselves.
Turkey Vultures eat carrion (already dead animals) and to do this they use their amazing sense of smell to locate them. The part of their brain that is responsible for processing smells is particularly large and they have very strong immune systems to prevent them from getting sick from eating the rotting carcasses. The one problem they often run into when feeding, particularly from animals that have been shot and left by hunters, is the ingestion of lead shot which eventually leads to lead poisoning and death for these and many other birds.

For more information, please see:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Peregrine Fund
National Geographic