Turk – Turkey Vulture
Received: May 2, 1986
Turk was received at World Bird Sanctuary in 1986 from the center in Tennessee where she was raised. For many years Turk was referred to as a male. Now given the bird’s size, Turk is probably a female. The only way to be sure would be to do a surgical procedure, not an option we would pursue just to satisfy our curiosity. Turk sustained a wing injury as a juvenile and cannot extend her injured wing for flight, so she was trained for education programs. Turk’s long career with the World Bird Sanctuary has taken her all over the country. She has educated audiences in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Montana, Kentucky, and various locations throughout the Midwest about the important role vultures play in nature. People young and old marvel (or get grossed out) when they hear about the lifestyle of vultures.
Turk is a wonderful ambassador for the less glamorous members of the bird family. She currently resides at World Bird Sanctuary and travels with our staff to many of the hundreds of outreach programs on our calendar every year.
Species: Turkey Vulture
Latin Name: Cathartes aura
Description: a large brownish black bird with a long tail and bare head and neck; often has a green or blue iridescence on the chest, shoulders, and back, which appears to turn purple on the wings and tail; wing linings and lower part of the tail are gray; head and neck lack feathers and sports wrinkled, red skin; eyes are a pale grayish-brown; beak is also pale
Sex: both sexes similar in size and color; female may be somewhat larger than male
Age: average in the wild 5 years; in captivity up to 20 years
Weight: 3.5-5 lbs.
Habitat: varied; ranges from open plains to deserts, forests and jungles
Status: Has adapted to living in proximity to humans
Range: throughout the United States and southern Canada during warmer months; migrate to South America during winter months, often as far as Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands
Behavior: the large wingspan allows them to soar on thermals for long periods, covering great distances; small groups have been observed performing ritualistic “dances” near breeding season; actual nest not built; will sometimes create a soft layer under the eggs with rotten wood or leaves; two eggs laid on the ground, in a cave, hollow log, or stump; both birds share all nesting duties; incubation is 38-41 days; chicks fed regurgitated food; young fledge at 70-80 days
Diet: almost exclusively carrion; may sometimes eat eggs, rotting fruits and vegetables, or even excrement of sea lions; one of the few birds with a sense of smell, and can detect carrion even under the canopy of forests
Vocalization: low grunts and hisses, audible only at close range
- If threatened vultures will vomit on potential predators
- A vulture’s digestive juices are strong enough to kill any type of bacteria known to man
- Their “sunning” behavior, sitting on the ground with wings extended allows a photochemical change in the oil on the feathers that provides them with Vitamin D