Ever wonder, "what does a Turkey Vulture eat?" or "where does a Turkey Vulture live?" They may not look like much when you see them up close, but on the wing they're one of the most beautiful and graceful sights you'll see. The Turkey Vulture also fills an important ecological niche, making it an integral part of the American ecosystem.
Found Throughout the Americas
Turkey vultures have one of the broadest habitat ranges of all the New World vultures, with populations ranging from parts of Canada all the way down to the tip of South America. These birds live in forests, deserts, open spaces and scrublands. With a population of nearly 4.5 million, it's the most prolific vulture in the Americas. Canadian turkey vultures may migrate south, but the population is generally non-migratory.
Like many other vultures, turkey vultures are covered entirely in black plumage, with the exception of their heads. Turkey vultures have bare faces, and the skin is typically red. They boast a wingspan of approximately six feet, and are one of the most graceful soaring birds in the avian world. The flight feathers are often grey, showing a distinctive pattern when wings are spread in flight. Some people incorrectly call turkey vultures a Turkey Buzzard; this classification belongs to the hawk family, and turkey vultures are not buzzards.
What Does a Turkey Vulture Eat?
As a scavenger bird, turkey vultures dine primarily on carrion. While this isn't an appetizing thought, it does make turkey vultures vital to ecosystems throughout their range. By eliminating carrion, turkey vultures help prevent the spread of infection and disease. Because this bird serves an important role in the ecosystem, it has a protected status in the United States.
These vultures hunt by smell, and prefer prey that is recently dead, unlike some of their vulture cousins. Turkey vultures lead King Vultures and American Black Vultures to prey, because those birds lack the ability to smell carrion. In turn, the King Vultures tear into thick hides that turkey vultures could not penetrate, due to their smaller size and weaker bills.
Although they forage alone, turkey vultures typically roost in large groups. These birds prefer to roost on bare-branched trees, although they breed in caves. Apart from breeding time, turkey vultures never enter caves, and they don't make nests. Turkey vultures typically have two offspring per year, with an incubation period of approximately 40 days. Turkey vulture young leave the parents after 70 to 80 days.
A Misunderstood Bird of Prey
Many Americans don't understand the important role that turkey vultures play in preventing the spread of disease and aiding in the natural ecological cycle. Cattle ranchers sometimes argue that turkey vultures carry disease from carcass to carcass on their legs and bills, although this is an invalid assumption. Turkey vultures have an extremely sophisticated digestive tract, which kills these diseases as the carrion passes through it. Likewise, the bird's face and legs are bald, to aid in hygiene and prevent the spread of disease. Knowing the answer to the question "what does a Turkey Vulture eat?" helps to understand it's imprtant role.
Can you spot birds of prey while you're out bird watching? Looking for some characteristic physical features and behaviors will make it easy to spot these facsinating birds.