Vulture family (Cathartidae)
In flight – large dark bird; long wings, 72” wingspan; trailing half of wings silver. While soaring – wings held in a V; bird tilts back and forth in flight, rarely flaps. Perched – large dark bird, 25” tall, unfeathered red head, pale bill.
Male and female are socially monogamous, mate for life. No nest is constructed. Female lays eggs on the ground in a cave or on a rock ledge. Two large eggs are dull white, occasionally with dark marks. Nestlings are altricial, fly 9 weeks after hatching. Adults are very shy around their nest and will abandon the nest if disturbed by humans.
Grunts and hisses at nest site.
Kathartes, Greek for “a purifier”; aura, a South American name for this bird.
In the Nature Park:
Year-round resident. Turkey Vultures soar over the open quarry pit and perch and roost in trees on the cliffs along the Rim Trail. The quarry is ideal for Turkey Vultures because the sun heats up the Quarry Bottom, creating thermals of rising hot air for Turkey Vultures to soar on. Turkey Vultures can hop off the quarry rim and start soaring immediately with a minimum of energy required to begin flying.
Turkey Vultures are not true vultures or hawks. Instead analysis of DNA sequences has shown that Turkey Vultures are most closely related to the Great Blue Heron!
Turkey Vultures usually eat carrion (dead and decaying flesh), thus serving as “nature’s janitors". They are considered to be gentle and non-aggressive animals. Their bald head allows them to remain clean and avoid bacteria while eating dead stuff.