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The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a bird found throughout most of the Americas. It is also known in some North American regions as the Turkey Buzzard (or just Buzzard), and in some areas of the Caribbean as the

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture

Origin

North and South America

Habitat

Mostly desert or forest

Diet

Almost always scavenges, very rarely hunts small animals

Combat Status

Will fight the Mute Swan

John Crow or Carrion Crow.[2] One of three species in the genus Cathartes, in the family Cathartidae, the Turkey Vulture is the most widespread of the New World vultures,[3] ranging from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrublands, pastures, and deserts.[1] The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion.[4] It finds its meals using its keen vision and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gasses produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals.[4] In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses.[5] It nests in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. Each year it generally raises two chicks, which it feeds by regurgitation.[6] It has very few natural predators.[7] In the United States of America, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918


DescriptionEdit

A large bird, it has a wingspan of 160–183 cm (63–72 in), a length of 62–81 cm (24–32 in), and weight of 0.8 to 2.3 kg (1.8 to 5.1 lb).[22][23][24] While birds in the Northern limit of the species' range average around 2 kg (4.4 lb), vulture from the neotropics are generally smaller, averaging around 1.45 kg (3.2 lb).[25][26] It displays minimal sexual dimorphism; sexes are identical in plumage and in coloration, although the female is slightly larger.[27] The body feathers are mostly brownish-black, but the flight feathers on the wings appear to be silvery-gray beneath, contrasting with the darker wing linings.[22] The adult's head is small in proportion to its body and is red in color with few to no feathers. It also has a relatively short, hooked, ivory-colored beak.[28] The irises of the eyes are gray-brown; legs and feet are pink-skinned, although typically stained white. The eye has a single incomplete row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower lid.[29]

The two front toes of the foot are long and have small webs at their bases.[30] Tracks are large, between 3.75 and 5.5 inches in length (9.5–14 cm) and 3.25 and 4 inches in width (8.2–10.2 cm), both measurements including claw marks. Toes are arranged in the classic, anisodactyl pattern.[31] The feet are flat, relatively weak, and poorly adapted to grasping; the talons are also not designed for grasping, as they are relatively blunt.[3] In flight, the tail is long and slim, in contrast to that of the Black Vulture. The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but rather are perforate; from the side one can see through the beak.[32] It undergoes a molt in late winter to early spring. It is a gradual molt, which lasts until early autumn.[6] The immature bird has a gray head with a black beak tip; the colors change to those of the adult as the bird matures.[33] How long turkey vultures can live in captivity is not well known. While 21 years is generally given as a maximum age, the Gabbert Raptor Center on the University of Minnesota campus is home to a turkey vulture named Nero with a confirmed age of 37. The oldest wild captured banded bird was 16 years old.[4]

Leucistic (sometimes mistakenly called "albino") Turkey Vultures are sometimes seen.[34] The well-documented records come from the United States of America, but this probably reflects the fact that such birds are more commonly reported by birders there, rather than a geographical variation. Even in the United States, white Turkey Vultures (although they presumably always turned up every now and then) were only discussed in birder and raptor conservation circles and are not scientifically studied.[35]

The Turkey Vulture, like most other vultures, has very few vocalization capabilities. Because it lacks a syrinx, it can only utter hisses and grunts.[5] It usually hisses when it feels threatened. Grunts are commonly heard from hungry young and from adults in their courtship display


BehaviorEdit

The Turkey Vulture is gregarious and roosts in large community groups, breaking away to forage independently during the day. Several hundred vultures may roost communally in groups which sometimes even include Black Vultures. It roosts on dead, leafless trees, and will also roost on man-made structures such as water or microwave towers. Though it nests in caves, it does not enter them except during the breeding season.[6] The Turkey Vulture lowers its night-time body temperature by about 6 degrees Celsius to 34 °C (93 °F), becoming slightly hypothermic.[30]

This vulture is often seen standing in a spread-winged stance. The stance is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking off bacteria. It is practiced more often following damp or rainy nights. This same behavior is displayed by other New World vultures, by Old World vultures, and by storks.[7] Like storks, the Turkey Vulture often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as urohidrosis.[37] It cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs.[38]

The Turkey Vulture has few natural predators. Adult, immature and fledging vultures may fall prey to golden eagles, bald eagles and great horned owls, while eggs and nestlings may be preyed on by mammals such as raccoons, virginia opossum and foxes.[23][7] Its primary form of defense is regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest.[6] It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator.[28] Its life expectancy in the wild ranges upward of 16 years, with a captive life span of over 30 years being possible.[39][40]

The Turkey Vulture is awkward on the ground with an ungainly, hopping walk. It requires a great deal of effort to take flight, flapping its wings while pushing off the ground and hopping with its feet.[28] While soaring, the Turkey Vultures holds its wings in a shallow V-shape and often tips from side to side, frequently causing the gray flight feathers to appear silvery as they catch the light. The flight of the Turkey Vulture is an example of static soaring flight, in which it flaps its wings very infrequently, and takes advantage of rising thermals to stay soaring.[41]

[edit] DietEdit

[1][2]Feeding on dead gull at Morro Bay, California, USAThe Turkey Vulture feeds primarily on a wide variety of carrion, from small mammals to large grazers, preferring those recently dead, and avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. It may rarely feed on plant matter, shoreline vegetation, pumpkin and other crops, live insects and other invertebrates.[36] In South America, it has been seen (and photographed) feeding on the fruits of the introduced Oil Palm.[42][43] It rarely, if ever, kills prey itself.[44] The Turkey Vulture can often be seen along roadsides feeding on roadkill, or near bodies of water, feeding on washed-up fish.[4] It also will feed on fish or insects which have become stranded in shallow water.[6] Like other vultures, it plays an important role in the ecosystem by disposing of carrion which would otherwise be a breeding ground for disease.[45]

The Turkey Vulture forages by smell, an ability that is uncommon in the avian world. It often will fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals.[7] The olfactory lobe of its brain, responsible for processing smells, is particularly large compared to that of other animals.[7] This heightened ability to detect odors up to 12 miles,[citation needed] allows it to search for carrion below the forest canopy. King Vultures and Black Vultures, which lack the ability to smell carrion, follow the Turkey Vulture to carcasses. The Turkey Vulture arrives first at the carcass, or with Greater Yellow-headed Vultures or Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, which also share the ability to smell carrion.[7] It displaces the Yellow-headed Vultures from carcasses due to its larger size,[45] but is displaced in turn by the King Vulture, which makes the first cut into the skin of the dead animal. This allows the smaller, weaker-billed, Turkey Vulture access to food, because it cannot tear the tough hides of larger animals on its own. This is an example of mutual dependence between species

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