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Turkey Vulture

From Opus

(Redirected from Cathartes aura aura)
Adult Photo © by Vogelman Montgomery County, Texas 26 December 2003
Adult Photo © by Vogelman
Montgomery County, Texas 26 December 2003
Cathartes aura


[edit] Identification

62–81 cm (24½-31¾ in)

  • Large and brown to blackish
  • Primaries spread during flight (resembling fingers)
  • Flight feathers appear silvery below
  • Naked pink head (color differ among subspecies)

[edit] Similar Species

May be confused with Black Vulture. Separating features:

Subspecies auraPhoto © by Nick Richter Irvine, California, 27 June 2004
Subspecies aura
Photo © by Nick Richter
Irvine, California, 27 June 2004
  • head: grayish in Black Vulture and red in adult Turkey.
    • juvenile Turkey Vulture has dark head similar to Black Vulture, but feathers almost reach chin. Black vulture has bare throat.
  • underwing: Turkey has silvery secondaries and primaries when seen from below, contrasting with the dark underwing coverts; Black Vulture has white primaries contrasting to both coverts and secondaries as seen from both above and below.
  • tail: longer in Turkey (make wings appear narrower).
  • flight: Black Vulture holds wings nearly flat

[edit] Distribution

North, Central and South America.

Breeds in the south of Canada from southern British Columbia to southern Ontario, almost throughout the United States except the far northeast, in Mexico, Central America, part of the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles east to Puerto Rico, and in South America from Colombia and Venezuela south to Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands but rare or absent from much of eastern Argentina. Scarce in the far north but increasing and expanding range. A summer visitor to much of North American range but resident further south.

Northern birds winter in the southern United States from central California to Florida and southwards. Southernmost birds include some migratory populations.

[edit] Taxonomy

Subspecies jotaPhoto © by Stanley JonesPlaya El Paraíso, Huaura Province, Peru, 30 August 2017
Subspecies jota
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Playa El Paraíso, Huaura Province, Peru, 30 August 2017

[edit] Subspecies

Four subspecies recognised[1]:

Some sources mention at least two more subspecies[2]. There is also a suspicion that this species should be studied further because more than one species might be involved.

[edit] Habitat

A wide range of habitats from deserts, plains and mountains to forest and jungle. Cruises over all terrestrial and shoreline habitat

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Action

Rocking flight with wings held in dihedral (v-shaped)

[edit] Diet

Often scavenges at refuse-tips and along roadsides and shorelines.

[edit] Breeding

Nest usually among boulders or cliffs, but also in hollow logs on forest floor.

[edit] Vocalisation

Hisses and grunts given at the nest

[edit] Movements

North American races almost wholly migratory, moving to southern USA and funneling through Middle America to South America where they mingle with resident populations during the winter.

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from
  2. Jaramillo, A. 2003. Birds of Chile. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0691117409
  3. Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura. Downloaded from on 24 Feb. 2020.
  4. Houston, D., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 24 February 2020).
  5. Kirk, D. A. and M. J. Mossman (1998). Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

[edit] Recommended Citation

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