Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey Vultures--Cathartes aura

Turkey Vulture in flight courtesy of the US Fish and Wilflife Service

When my big brother was a boy, he had to write a report about a bird. Being a boy, he could not pick a warbler or hummingbird. Nothing pretty would do. No foo-foo birds. He had to pick a manly bird, and if it were gross, all the better. He picked the Turkey Vulture. It fit all the requirements.

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Turkey Vultures are related to storks according to scientists. They have a 6-foot wingspan and look mighty big when you are hiking and see them looking down at you. They soar so high that you generally need binoculars to get a good look at them. Even so, it is not a very close look. If you see them perched in a tree, you might get a closer view. The shot above and others from the Orange County Zoo in this post are photos that I took on a recent visit. It's not often you can see a Turkey Vulture so up close and personal. I took these pictures with a 12x zoom.

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Vultures are the janitors of the bird world. Something dies, and they clean it up. They can eat the grossest things and not get sick. They are specially designed for this job. First, they are good at spotting carrion (dead animals.) They have the best sense of smell in the bird world. They can smell carrion from a long way off. In addition, their eye sight is excellent.

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Their digestive systems kill bacteria and by the time it comes out, it is much cleaner than when it went in. This also why they can eat rotting meat. They are like a large, ugly disinfectant. Pretty amazing, really.

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

In flight, the Turkey Vulture is beautiful. Its wings are large and two-toned. The trailing edge is light gray. It soars with its wings in a slight v-shape. It tilts from side to side at times. The Turkey Vulture reaches speeds of 60 miles an hour when soaring, looking and smelling the air for food. It is often confused with hawks by people who are not familiar with the Turkey Vulture.

Turkey Vulture Preening.

News story about a Turkey Vulture who won't leave his rehabilitator.

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Turkey Vulture at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park

Where can you find Turkey Vultures in Orange County, California? Just about everywhere. Over the freeway, over open fields, nature centers, ecological preserves, parks, and anywhere there are places to soar and things to clean up. I have seen them over Bolsa Chica, Central Park, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Santiago Oaks, Newport Back Bay, the 405 freeway, Crystal Cove, Irvine Park, Mason Regional Park, over an industrial business area in Cypress, along many places along Pacific Coast Highway, and many, many more places. Look up in the sky for the two-toned wings held in a shallow V. I am sure you will see it soaring near you sometime soon.


14th Annual Kern River Valley AUTUMN NATURE & VULTURE FESTIVAL

Yes, there is a festival all about Turkey Vulture migration. Good information and photograph from the Kern River Preserve managed by Kern Valley Audubon.

All About Birds from Cornell: Turkey Vulture

Detailed page with range map, photos, habitat, food, behavior, and more.

Animal Diversity Web: Turkey Vultures

Comprehensive article with a large group of good photographs.

Desert USA: Turkey Vulture

Good article and a short, but informative educational video.

Eek! Environmental Education from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Really good article for kids from grades 4-8. Clear and easy to understand--even for us adults. Lots of details that will make you say "Eek!" "Yuck!"

Fairfax County Public School: Turkey Vultures

Information and wonderful pictures of Turkey Vultures. Very clear, detailed article about Turkey Vultures.

National Park Service: Turkey Vultures in Bandelier

Very good article with lots of clear, close up pictures of Turkey Vultures at Bandelier National Monument.

The Peregrine Fund, World Center for Birds of Prey: Turkey Vulture

Interesting short article includes description, habitat, diet, reproduction, range, interesting facts, and a vulture quiz.

Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center: Turkey Vulture

Lots of pictures.

The Turkey Vulture Society

Whole website about Turkey Vultures from a non-profit organization dedicated to the protect the Turkey Vulture and its habitat.

USGS: Turkey vulture Cathartes aura

Good, short profile with good section on similar species of raptors and how to tell the difference.

Turkey Vultures courtesy of the US Fish and Wilflife Service

Turkey Vultures courtesy of the US Fish and Wilflife Service


Bird Cinema: Turkey Vultures

Close views of Turkey Vultures. Here's another one.

Internet Bird Collection: Turkey Vulture

Forty Turkey Vulture Videos from this wonderful site. Be aware that some of the videos of Turkey Vultures at carcasses are pretty gross. If you have a weak stomach, stay away from the that and stick to the ones of Vultures in trees, etc.

Search for birding books, DVDs, binoculars, cameras and more at


Anonymous said...

Thanx for the info.
We saw 2 yesterday near MacArthur & Flower & couldn't figure out what they were. Now, thanx to you, we know a lot more about them!
They are beautiful in flight.

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Glad you found the post helpful. Turkey Vultures are really amazing birds. They make our world a cleaner place. Thanks for commenting. It's always a pleasure to hear from readers.