Turkey Vulture

Scientific Name
Cathartes aura
Also Known As
Turkey Buzzard, Buzzard
Range
All of Florida
Diet
Carrion
Life Expectancy
16 Years

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Turkey Vultures in Central Florida

The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is a common vulture species found throughout Florida, including the central region of the state. Sometimes called a turkey buzzard, this widespread scavenging bird plays an important role in the ecosystem. This guide provides tips on identifying turkey vultures, details on their biology and behavior, potential health risks, and exclusion methods to humanely prevent conflicts with these unique birds.

Appearance and Identification

Turkey vultures can be identified by their distinct physical characteristics

Adult Turkey Vulture

Photo 170150429 © Alain Maire, CC BY-NC

Adult Turkey Vultures

  • Size: Weigh 4-5 lbs (1.8-2.3 kg) with a wingspan around 6 feet (1.8 m).
  • Plumage: Adults have dark brown to blackish feathers except for the underside wing coverts which are silver-gray.

  • Head: Bald red to pink head and neck with few black bristles. Blue to purple skin on crown.
  • Beak: Ivory-colored, hooked at the tip.
  • Eyes: Brown irises encircled by bright red skin.
  • Feet: Dull yellow feet with long curved talons.
Juvenile Turkey Vulture

Photo 207751996 © Jared Gorrell, CC BY-NC

Juvenile Turkey Vultures

  • Size: Hatchlings weigh 2.3-2.7 oz (65-77 g) and grow rapidly, reaching adult size in about 10-11 weeks.
  • Plumage: Dark gray down covers the head and body. The wings have gray flight feathers.
  • Skin: The skin on the head and neck lacks feathers and is gray to pink.
  • Beak: Ivory-colored beak.
  • Eyes: Brown irises.

Turkey vultures can be distinguished from black vultures by their larger size, red head, silvery wing linings, and pronounced dihedral soaring profile.

Turkey Vulture Eggs

Photo 17213639 © National Aquarium, CC BY-NC

Turkey Vulture Eggs

  • Turkey Vulture eggs are tan or creamy in color with brown blotches. They have an oval shape typical of other raptors.
  • Size: Turkey Vulture eggs are about 2.2-2.7 inches (56-68 mm) long and 1.7-2 inches (44-50 mm) wide.
  • Shape: The shape is a standard oval with one end slightly more pointed than the other.
  • Color: The background color is tan, buff, or creamy overlaid with brown blotches. The blotches may form a ring around the blunt end.
  • Shell: The shell has a smooth, slightly glossy texture and is “chalky”.
  • Clutch: Turkey Vultures lay 1-3 eggs (usually 2) per clutch with consecutive clutches.
  • Nest: Eggs are incubated around 38 days, often on a bare ground scrape or cliff ledge lined with debris.

Maturation Rate

Turkey vulture chicks grow rapidly, reaching adult mass in about 2.5 months after hatching. They depend on the parents for food and care during the first few months after fledging. Juveniles start scavenging independently at about 3 to 4 months old.

Habits and Behavior

Turkey vultures are diurnal and gregarious, roosting colonially at nig