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Range/Habitat: Turkey Vultures are found throughout North America and south into the northern tip of South America. They reside in deciduous forests, woodlands, and adjacent farmlands. They are often found along highways or anywhere there are carrions (animal carcasses). They are migratory birds and winter in the southwest and east as far north as New England. They We have Turkey Vultures in Utah in the spring until late fall.
Behavior: Turkey Vultures are experts on riding wind thermals! They can coast for hours as they search for carrion during the day. Turkey Vultures are unique among birds in their ability to locate carrion via their smell. Most birds have a very weak sense of smell. They are social birds away from their nests and are often seen in large flocks circling high in the sky.
Breeding: Turkey Vultures become sexually mature between 6 and 8 years of age. Males have a goofy courtship display where they strut in front of the desired female and bob their heads up and down. They are solitary nesters, or nest only with their mate, in caves, cliff crevices, and occasionally abandoned buildings. They don’t build full nests, but may scrap aside some vegetation to form a nesting site. They lay 1-3 eggs per clutch which are altricial when hatched (naked, eyes closed). They fledge, or leave the nest, after several months and remain closely associated with one or both parents for months afterwards.
Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Formerly, large walk in vulture traps were set up by ranchers in Florida and Texas to protect newborn calves. They have also been trapped and killed due to the myth that they spread disease. Vultures actually decrease the spread of disease! They are nature’s garbagemen and clear out rotting carcasses that could be a hub of disease transmission. They were threatened by DDT in the mid 1900s but now are one of the most common birds in North America.