TMHughes enjoys birding and mountain biking in North Carolina.
Turkey Vultures Are Not Buzzards or Vultures
Turkey vultures are their own species of bird. Despite the name and several common nicknames, these birds are not related to buzzards or vultures. The turkey vulture shares some traits with buzzards and vultures that led early American settlers to name them such.
The official name is Cathartes aura but they are also known by many other names.
- Turkey buzzard, turkey vulture
- John Crow
- Carrion crow
- Buzzard, vulture
Turkey Vultures Are Beautiful Too
Turkey vultures have earned a bad rap that is, for the most part, well deserved. The birds are not pretty, they like to scavenge dead meat, and are often found flocking around road kills. Despite this negative reputation, turkey vultures are a necessary part of our environment and perform an important function in nature. These birds help to get rid of animals that die naturally in the wild. They are an important part of the food chain and help to return vital nutrients to the ecosystem.
They also have a very beautiful side to them. Turkey vultures are among the most graceful fliers on earth. The birds are bulky and ungainly while on the ground but turn into efficient and effortless gliders when in the air. If you have never taken the time to watch and appreciate a turkey vulture while it swoops, glides and climbs on rising thermals, you're missing out on a lovely sight. Turkey vultures are able to remain aloft for hours with only the occasional flap of their wings. Their broad wings and large wingspan help them to utilize rising currents of air called thermals.
How Big Is A Turkey Vulture?
Turkey vultures are big birds, about the size of a turkey. They have wingspans that can reach up to 6 feet and they weigh up to 5 pounds. These birds are the most widespread of all the New World vultures and can be found from Canada to the tip of South America. Within the range there are five recognized subspecies but all bear close resemblance to each other. Turkey vultures are categorized as a New World vulture with seven other birds that are only loosely related to each other. It is generally believed that these birds bear no relationship to the Old World vultures, but this is still being debated.
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The reason why turkey vultures, condors and true vultures resemble each other is called "convergent evolution." This means that these birds evolved under similar circumstances and with similar lifestyles, resulting in similar birds. These birds all eat carrion (dead and rotting animals they find laying about), which has led to the distinctive bald heads and long necks.
What Is A Buzzard?
Turkey vultures are also called buzzards, but this is alsoa misnomer. Buzzards are actually a species of Old World (European) hawk. The buzzard in Europe is considered to be a nuisance bird because it frequently kills farmyard animals like chickens, rabbits and other small mammals. The term buzzard has come to be associated with any nuisance birds and is commonly used to describe turkey vultures and condors.
What Is A Vulture?
Turkey vultures are not vultures either. True vultures are limited to Africa and Asia and are not present in North America except in zoos. Another bird of the Americas that is commonly mistaken for a vulture is the condor. There are several species of condors ranging from the tip of South America up into the Pacific Northwest.
Turkey vultures got the name vulture because of their resemblance to true vultures. One characteristic in particular that the two birds share is the bald head. Vultures and turkey vultures have bald heads because they eat carrion. Carrion is dead and decaying animals. The bald, featherless head is much easier to keep clean and is a product of evolution.
The condor is a very large bird of prey ranging from South America to the Pacific Northwest. These birds also share some common characteristics of African buzzards and are often mistaken for them. There are two species of condor currently known to science; the California condor and the Andean condor.
The California condor ranges from the Baja Peninsula to the Pacific Northwest. They have had a hard time and were once close to extinction. California turkey vultures are often mistaken for condors. The Andean condor lives in the Andes Mountains of South America and can found ranging their entire length.
Turkey Vulture Facts For Kids
Did you know that turkey vultures flock together, especially during the colder months? The birds come together in large groups called rookeries to sit out winter weather. Rookeries are usually found in wooded areas near good scavenging grounds and can hold hundreds of birds. In the morning the birds can be seen warming their wings by holding them outstretched in the sun. This is also believed to help dry the wings and kill off any bacteria they may have picked up. During the day the birds will either sit, conserving energy, or fly out looking for food. In the evening the birds will flock back to the rookery. As the birds gather back towards the rookery they can form huge squadrons of circling gliders that can be seen from miles away.
Turkey vultures have keen eyesight and smell. These birds can see dead or dying animals from miles away and are also able to follow the smell of carrion. By flying low, turkey vultures can pick up on the stench of decaying animals and follow it to its source. Larger animals that smell the worst can attract dozens of turkey vultures before they are fully consumed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.