Turkey vultures are also known as buzzards. Turkey vultures are the most widespread of the New World vultures. They feed almost exclusively on the corpses of recently dead animals.
Turkey vultures range from southern Canada across all of the United States and south through Central America to the southernmost tip of South America. They can be found in open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrublands, grasslands, and deserts.
The turkey vulture has a bare, reddish-pink head and neck and brownish-black feathers. Turkey vultures have strong bare legs. They have long, broad wings essential for soaring. Turkey vultures have a wingspan of 63 to 72 inches (160–183 cm) (63–72 in) and a body length of 25 to 32 inches (64-81 cm) long. Turkey buzzards usually weigh between 1.75 and 4.5 pounds (0.85-2 kg). Turkey vultures vary in size through their range.
Turkey vultures are scavengers. They feed on the carcasses of mammals that have recently died. Turkey vultures have very good eyesight and a very keen sense of smell. Turkey vultures soar on thermals–warm air rising from the Earth–occasionally flapping their wings to stay aloft. As they soar they scan the ground below and smell for dead animals. Turkey buzzards can smell the gasses produced by the beginning process of decay in dead animals. They can even smell carrion below flying above thick forests or jungles. Turkey vultures rarely kill their own prey.
Turkey vultures commonly feed in groups of a dozen or more birds often crowding around a carcass and squabbling noisily for scraps. Turkey vultures have strongly hooked sharp-edged beaks that they use to break the carrion’s skin and tear at the meat. They have rough tongues that can scrape the flesh from bones. A large flock of turkey vultures can take every shred of flesh from the body of a horse in a short time.
Turkey vultures roost in large community groups. They nest in hollow trees, thickets, and caves. Females generally lay two eggs each year and both parents feed their young by regurgitating food. Young turkey vultures venture out on their own when they are about one year old. Turkey vultures lack the vocal organs other birds have; they communicate in grunts and low hisses. They commonly fly south to warm weather in the winter. Turkey vultures have few natural predators.
Turkey vultures commonly live from 12 to 17 years. The scientific name of the turkey vulture is Cathartes aura.