Turkey Vulture

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, we’ve reached our first (as well as the most widespread in North America) vulture species; the turkey vulture! Turkey vultures are huge birds that eat primarily carrion (dead animals) but will also occasionally eat garbage and left over human food, and will also on rare occasions eat live food; primarily insects or fish. Turkey vultures have excellent eyesight, and a keen sense of smell (something most birds lack.) They are able to smell/sense gases given off by decaying flesh. Although similar in appearance and behavior to vultures in Eurasia, the “new world” vultures, like the turkey vulture are not closely related.

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Turkey vulture soaring over the Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, OH

Here in the states, the turkey vulture is sometimes called the turkey buzzard, or simply the buzzard. This can be quite confusing, especially for Eurasian birders. You may recall from the red-tailed hawk post a while back, that in Eurasia the term buzzard applies to birds in the buteo genus, i.e. red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, etc. The common buzzard of Eurasia looks like what we in the U.S. would call a hawk. The term buzzard isn’t used for hawks here in the U.S. but is rather slang for a carrion-eating bird. Confusing, I know.

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Turkey vulture eating some washed up fish, Headlands Beach State Park, Mentor, OH

I’d only ever see a couple a year flying over Central Park. Likewise in St. Louis. But home in Ohio is another story. Turkey vultures are probably the most common soaring bird I seen there. To the untrained (and even trained) eye, they could get you excited that you’re seeing something else, like perhaps an eagle. While they have a similar silhouette, there’s one thing that will separate them. Well, a couple things. First off is coloration. Turkey vultures are dark, nearly black, while the back half of their wings are lighter in color. The other way is their posture. An eagle will hold its wings level, but a turkey vulture holds its wings in a “v,” sometimes called a dihedral. A term that tickled one of my former coworkers, Chris, at Central Park. One of my favorite turkey vulture sightings was at the beach back in Ohio. I saw 7 of them all circling, and one on the beach, basically shooing the gulls off to nab himself some dead washed-up fish. And I got the pics (seen in this post) to prove it! Speaking of fish, next up is the fish crow. See you then!

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