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Fr: Urubu à tête noire
All : Truthahngeier
Esp : Aura Gallipavo
Ital: Avvoltoio collorosso
Nd: Kalkoengier
Sd : Kalkongam
Port: Urubu-de-cabeça-vermelha

Photographers :

Marc Chrétien

Alfredo Colón
Puerto Rico Wildlife

Maxime Dechelle

Jean Michel Fenerole
Photos d’Oiseaux

Tom Grey
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures

Patrick Ingremeau

René Lortie

Tom Merigan
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries

Bob Moul
Nature Photography

Pete Moulton
Pete Moulton Photography

Philippe et Aline Wolfer

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 2 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334156

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF MEXICO AND NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA by  Steve N. G. Howell, Sophie Webb - Oxford University Press - ISBN: 0198540124

A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF COLOMBIA by Steven L. Hilty and William L. Brown - Princeton University Press – ISBN 069108372X

BIRDS OF THE GREAT BASIN – by Fred A. Ryser - Univ of Nevada Pr -ISBN: 0874170796

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)


Home page

Page Family Cathartidae

Page Birds of prey

Summary cards


Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura

Accipitriforme Order – Cathartidae Family

Length: 64-81 cm
Wingspan: 180-200 cm
Weight: 850-2000 g

The Turkey Vulture is one of the largest American birds of prey. Often seen gliding along searching for food or alighting on highways for roadkills, its presence is obvious either in the sky or perched on pole with the wings extended towards the sun.

Race "ruficollis"

French Guyana

Adult has brownish-black plumage overall with slight iridescence. Upperparts show buff-edged feathers, including on wings and tail. Neck is darker.
Wings are long and broad, with pale brown to whitish areas on the six outer primaries on the upperwing. The tail is fairly long.

Underparts are rather black with silvery-grey underside of flight feathers.

Race "ruficollis" (Argentina)
Race "septentrionalis" (Pennsylvania)

Head and neck are bare with some white warts around the eyes. The bare skin is red to purplish-red. The top of the crown is covered in black, short and scarce down.

The hooked bill is whitish with reddish cere. As in other members of Cathartes genus, the large nostrils allow a good sense of smell. Eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are flesh to reddish.

Both sexes are similar in plumage, but female is slightly larger than male.
The juvenile is duller and browner in plumage. The bare skin of the face is dark grey with short downy feathers. The bill is dusky. Upperwing coverts show more conspicuous brownish edges.

Race "ruficollis"

Immature (dull head)

French Guyana

We can find four subspecies.
C.a. aura from W North America, S to Costa Rica and Greater Antilles.
C.a. septentrionalis from E North America.
C.a. ruficollis from S Central America and lowland South America, and Trinidad.
C.a. jota from Pacific coasts of South America (from Ecuador), E Andes, Patagonia and Falkland islands.

They differ in body size and intensity of head colours.
The race “ruficollis” shows white band across the back of the head.  

Race "ruficollis"

French Guyana

The Turkey Vulture, as other Cathartids, lacks the syrinx and the associated muscles, making it almost silent. However, we can hear some noises such as grunts, snorts, rattles, sneezes, hisses and wheezes, especially around carcasses and during the breeding season.

The Turkey Vulture is rarely found in dense forest, preferring open, semi-open and wooded country. It may range from desert in coastal Peru, grassland, savannas and tropical rainforest to temperate woodland in North America. 
It may wander up to 4300 metres of elevation according to the range.

The Turkey Vulture ranges from southern Canada to Cape Horn. It has been introduced into Puerto Rico from Cuba.  
This species is migratory in North America, and moves southwards to southern USA, Central and South America.

Race "aura"

Introduced into Puerto Rico

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger attracted by carcasses from large animals to small birds. It takes advantage of roadkills which are a good source of food. It rarely kills prey, even small items.

The Turkey Vulture locates the food thanks to its good sense of smell. However, it usually ignores carcasses which are several days old, maybe to avoid the toxic products involved by the bacteria action.
Around a carcass, the Turkey Vulture is often dominated by the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture and the American Black Vulture.

It usually arrives first, then other raptors feed, and finally, it returns to clean up the remaining of meat.

Race "septentrionalis"


This vulture flies at low-level when searching for food, in order to “find” and smell the low-lying signals which are strongest close to the ground.

Race "ruficollis"


In the afternoon, the Turkey Vultures congregate at communal roosts for the night, and even during the breeding season, the non-breeding birds sleep together at night.
In the early morning, it can be seen perched at treetops close to the roost, with the wing fully extended and oriented to the sun. It also exposes the back with fluffed feathers to the sun.
As the body temperature drops several degrees C during the night, the birds need the heat of the sun in the early morning, before to start the search of food.

The Turkey Vulture is often seen singly or in small groups, but when migrating, they can fly in huge flocks.

The Turkey Vulture is highly aerial. Its wings are made for soaring and gliding, and flapping flight is very rare because it lacks the strong pectoral muscles required for that.
It soars and glides for long periods with little flapping, but when it does, the wing beats are deep and easy. It takes advantage of thermal currents for rising and then, it glides along.

Breeding season varies according to the range.
The Turkey Vulture often nests in cave, recess or rock crevice in cliff side, but it may also use hollow logs and even an abandoned nest of other raptor. Some of them nest on the ground in dense vegetation. They do not add any nest materials.

Female lays two eggs, and both parents incubate during 38-41 days. The chicks are covered in white down and have blackish bare face. They are fed by regurgitation by both adults. They fledge about 70-80 days or more after hatching.

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds on carrion, carcasses of all sizes and roadkills. It also frequents rubbish dumps.
The food is located by smell while it flies low from the ground.

The Turkey Vulture is abundant and widespread. They migrate in huge numbers through Central America. The range is increasing because they are more common in disturbed than undisturbed areas.
This species is not persecuted and not threatened at this moment.