The Turkey Vulture
Throughout all the deserts of the Southwest,
as well as most of North America.
Dry, open country, ranch lands and along
roadsides where carrion is common.
The Turkey Vulture is one of North America's
largest birds of prey. It reaches a length of 32 inches with a wing span
of 6 feet. Its overall color is brown-black with a featherless, red head,
white bill and yellow feet among mature adults. Immature birds have a
darker face. Although usually silent, the bird will occasionally emit a
soft hiss or groan.
In flight, the Turkey Vulture rocks from
side to side, rarely flapping its wings which are held at a V-angle called
a dihedral. Silver-gray flight feathers look lighter than the black lining
feathers of the underwing. Its long tail extends beyond its legs and feet
Vultures are best known for their practice of feeding
on dead animal carcasses, but will occasionally attack young and helpless
animals as well. They obtain much of their water from the moisture in
carrion, and their powerful kidneys enable them to excrete less water when
expelling waste products.
Turkey vultures, like other carrion birds,
are protected from disease associated with decaying animals by a very
sophisticated immune system. Their unfeathered "bald" head is easy to keep
clean and is characteristic of vultures and condors throughout the
Mating occurs in all deserts except the
Mojave. One to three blotched eggs are laid in cliff hollows, logs or
among rocks on the ground; no nest is built. Both parents participate in
incubation of the eggs for up to a month. Newly hatched young are fed with
regurgitated food for the first few days and fly from the nest within 10
Unlike most birds, vultures have a keen
sense of smell. The Turkey Vulture's olfactory sense is estimated to be 3
times that of the smaller Black Vulture, which is also found in the North
American Deserts. The California Condor, now almost extinct, is the third
member of the Cathartidae Family, referred to as the American
Vultures. Vultures are sometimes mistakenly called buzzards, the British
name for buteos -- hawks of the Buteo genus.