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Turkey Vulture

Fact File

Continent: South America
Habitat: Varies widely, from forested to unforested.
Weight and length: 2kg, 172cm


Diet: Carnivore (Eats Meat)
Gestation: 34 days


Conservation Status: LC


  • The word vulture comes from the latin ‘vellere’, which
    means to pluck or tear. Its scientific name, Cathartes aura,
    means either “golden purifier” or “purifying breeze.”
  • Roost in large community groups, sometimes with several
    hundred vultures together but will search for food
    independently during day.
  • Have a very good sense of smell and are thought to be
    one of the few birds who use smell extensively. The part
    of the brain responsible for processing smells is large,
    compared to other birds. Heightened ability to detect
    odours – can detect just a few parts per trillion – allows
    them to find dead animals below a forest canopy
  • Based on their wing-surface-to-weight ratio they have light
    wing loading, meaning they can use thermals more
    effectively and are more buoyant than other vultures.
  • Known for their defence mechanism of regurgitating
    semi-digested meat,which deters most predators due to
    its strong smell.

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Aves (birds) — Falconiformes (diurnal birds of prey) — Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

Turkey Vultures are new world vultures from the Americas. They were so named because their bald red heads and dark plumage resemble those of turkeys. Like many other vultures, they have bald heads as a hygienic adaptation to scavenging carrion. Bald heads are easier to keep clean and so reduce the chances of the bird becoming infected.

They use thermal air currents to fly, keeping themselves aloft with minimal effort. They have great vision and smell, and fly low enough that they can detect the gases that decaying carcasses give off.

Although turkey vultures are classified as “low concern”, they can be affected by over-fishing and agriculture encroachment, which reduce number of carcasses available to the birds, and also by lead poisoning from carcasses shot by buckshot or lead bullets.

Habitat: Occupy a diverse range of habitats, both forested as well as
open environments. Can literally be found anywhere they can
effectively find a food (carrion) supply.

Vital Statistics:
–Average weight: 2kg
–Average length: 1.72m

Life Expectancy:
In the wild up to: 16 years
In captivity up to: 30 years

Diet: Are scavengers and eat carrion.

Distribution: Can be found as far north as the southern border of Canada and as far south as Tierra del fuego, Chile.

How we are Protecting Wild Animals
Once a common sight, local vultures and penguins have suffered from centuries of habitat loss, persecution, food loss and nest destruction.

We are working in an area of North West Peru in the Illescas Reserve. It is home to many threatened birds, including Andean condors, sever types of vulture, and the endangered Humboldt Penguin.

Human activity in the area has resulted in habitat destruction and pollution, with many of the local birds also being threatened by poaching and overfishing. Without areas to nest in and food to eat, wild populations were dropping at alarming rates.

The APCPP protects the beaches from human disruption, and patrols the coastline to prevent illegal fishing. We also rescue and rehabilitate penguins to be released into the wild, and set up feeding stations to ensure the survival of these species. The APCPP is solely funded by Safari Zoo Nature Foundation.

Safari Zoo Animals Protected by This Project

Other Wild Animals Protected by This Project