Photo: Dori @ Wikimedia
Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
Classification: Nongame Species
Abundance: Found statewide
Species Profile (coming soon!)
Scavenger of the skies, the turkey vulture is the most populous vulture in North America. One of seven vulture species in the New World, the turkey vulture counts the endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and the black vulture (Coragyps atratus) among its close relations in the United States. At first glance, a turkey vulture’s 6-foot wingspan while soaring resembles that of an eagle, but its wings are held at a slight vee, or dihedral, and are distinctly two-toned, while an eagle’s wings are held flat and are uniformly black.
The turkey vulture is sometimes confused with the black vulture, whose wings and head are uniformly dark and whose tail is shorter and square. In soaring, the turkey vulture’s body rocks unsteadily, as if balancing on the wind currents. Graceful in flight, the bird is awkward on the ground, balancing by lifting its huge wings. Up close, the red skin of the turkey vulture’s bare head and neck is somewhat corrugated, the feathers are dark brown, and the hooked bill and legs are pale. Male and female coloration is the same, and young turkey vultures are distinguished by a darkish down on the head and neck. Turkey vultures lack a voice of any kind; the only sounds they can make are hisses and grunts.
Turkey vultures are commonly seen soaring on thermals or scavenging in fields and roadsides in groups. They are secretive nesters, however, preferring the darkness of hollow stumps or thickets in remote woods or swamps. They do not build nests, instead laying their eggs directly on the ground or on chips of rotted wood in a hidden location.
The turkey vulture is a nongame species with no open hunting season. Under federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone to injure, harass, kill or possess a bird of prey or any parts of a bird of prey. This includes harming or removing a nest.
Both species of vulture in NC (turkey and black) are federally protected. When vultures are causing damage or a nuisance issue, wildlife professionals with USDA - Wildlife Services can help you manage vulture damage, or if control measures have failed, they can provide guidance on applying for a federal depredation permit for lethal removal.
Federal permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but Wildlife Services can provide guidance on the application process. Be aware, these permits are issued under limited circumstances. USDA Wildlife Services' toll free number is (866) 4USDA-WS (866-487-3297).
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports