Turkey Vultures are widely found in North America and are also known as turkey buzzards. The adults can weigh up to 3 kilos, reaching up to 85 cm in length. The wingspan of the vultures can be about 2 meters. The name turkey is given to them due to the bald, red head that closely resembles that of a wild turkey and their feet closely resemble the feet of a chicken, which they cannot use them to lift or carry food. Instead, their feet are specially designed to hold food in place while they tear it apart.
They generally prefer wide open spaces, especially coastline, deserts, and plains. However, they can live in a wide range of habitats, including tropical and temperate forests and grasslands. The pacific northwest has a large population of turkey vultures and if you look up, on any warm day, you more than likely will see them riding the thermal air currents high in the sky.
Vultures are basically scavengers, that feed on dead animals. They usually thrust their heads inside the carcass. The fact that their head is bald keeps it clean while eating.
Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell, which enables them to find out a dead animal within 24 hours of its death. They are also empowered with sharp eyesight, which helps them to search out food. If the need arises, turkey vultures can also live on vegetation.
Turkey vultures usually lay up to 3 eggs in a year. The incubation period is generally 40 days, after which the eggs hatch. All the responsibilities for incubating as well as caring the young ones are shared by both parents. The young ones become capable of flying by 80 days after they hatch. Turkey vultures do not build a nest for laying eggs; instead, they lay eggs in caves or on the ground. A turkey vulture can live up to 16 years in the wild, while in captivity, they can live till 30.
Turkey vultures have limited vocalization capabilities, as they do not have vocal organs. Their vocalization capabilities are restricted to making hisses and grunts. A hiss is made when they sense danger or feel threatened. On the other hand, a grunt is made either when they are hungry or while courting.
One of the most interesting turkey vulture facts is that it is a very gentle and non-aggressive bird. It basically uses vomiting as a means of self-defense. So, whenever the bird feels threatened by a predator, it throws up semi-digested food. The foul smell of the semi-digested food forces the predators to move away from it. At the same time, the body weight of the bird gets reduced due to vomiting, which allows it to fly away quickly.
Another peculiar fact about turkey vulture is that it urinates on its legs. As the vulture does not perspire like a human, the act of urinating on the legs helps it to cool itself in summer. At the same time, the strong acids of its urine kill bacteria on the legs. The legs come in contact with bacteria when the bird treads on the dead and decaying animal bodies that it eats. Turkey vultures are often observed sitting in the trees, with their wings spread. They do it to warm their body and dry their wings. However, it also helps them to destroy the bacteria, by baking them off in the hot sun.
While driving in the woods with my family one day, we came across a group of vultures feeding on a deer carcass, we were able to get within 3 meters of these birds. The smell was so bad that we had to hold our breath. It was incredible to watch these birds feeding.