Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture
Cathartes aura

Photo by Luis Leal (Trek Nature)

Common name:
turkey vulture (en); urubu-de-cabeça-vermelha (pt); urubu à tête rouge (fr); aura gallipavo (es); truthahngeier (de)

Order Falconiformes
Family Cathartidae

This species is found in most of the Americas, from southern Canada down to Tierra del Fuego, including the northern Caribbean islands down to Puerto Rico. The populations in Canada and in the western and north-eastern United States migrate south to winter, while other populations are resident.

These birds are 62-81 cm long and have a wingspan of 160-182 cm. They weigh 850-2.300 g.

The turkey vulture is found in a wide range of habitats, from hot deserts to wet grasslands, dry scrublands, temperate and tropical forests, savannas, pastures, and even sandy beaches. they occur from sea level up to an altitude of 4.300 m.

They feed on carrion, eating mainly dead mammals, but also reptiles, other birds, amphibians, fish and even invertebrates. They specialize on the soft bits of carcasses. Turkey vultures can also kill sick or injured animals and nestlings.

Turkey vultures are monogamous and can possibly breed all year round, varying among different parts of their large breeding range. They don’t build a nest, with the female laying 1-3 cream coloured eggs with brown or lavender spots, directly on the soil or among leaf litter. The eggs are incubated by both parents for 28-41 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 60-84 days after hatching.

IUCN status -LC (Least Concern)
This species has an extremely large breeding range and the global population is estimated at 28 million individuals. The turkey vulture was affected by the side-effects of the pesticide DDT in the past, put at present the population is believed to be stable and populations in North America have been growing at a rate of 27% per decade over the last 4 decades.

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