Turkey vultures and turkey buzzards are common names for the same large, red-headed scavenger species
The turkey vulture is one of the most intriguing bird species in the Americas due to its numerous endearing characteristics. Vultures, especially turkey vultures, are rarely violent toward humans. They will often expand their wings and growl if they feel threatened.
Because of this, when seeing them around, many people question, “Are turkey vultures dangerous?”. If you want to discover the answer to that question and more about this species, read this article on American Birding Expo now.
The Turkey Vulture is not beautiful, so most people would never call it magnificent and even doubt, “are turkey vultures dangerous?”. When turkey vultures fly low overhead, they can make people feel willies.
However, the good news is that turkey vultures don’t pose much of a threat to humans. They are pretty harmless. They fly low only because the gases given off by decaying meat they eat are detected by their acute sense of smell.
Since turkey vultures only devour dead animals and people, any alive creature should be fine to them. So, don’t worry if seeing one of these massive, turkey-faced, roadkill-eating beasts.
As scavengers, vultures don’t hurt people; they are good for our health and well-being. They keep sickness from spreading by removing dead animals that start to smell bad. Indeed, turkey vultures are much more helpful to humans than “beautiful” birds like eagles or hawks.
If the question “Are turkey vultures dangerous?” has left you feeling uneasy in the past, it is likely because you do not know much about this species. In this part, we will provide you with more information about turkey vultures.
The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is the most common of the New World vultures. They are found in warm and temperate regions from southern Canada to the tip of South America, making it one of three species in the genus Cathartes of the family Cathartidae. It lives in semi-open and open habitats such as subtropical woods, shrublands, pastures, and deserts.
- Scientific name: Cathartes aura
- Length: 62 to 81cm (24-32 in)
- Weight: Between 0.8 to 2.41 kg (1.8 to 5.3lb)
- Wingspan: 160 to 183cm (5.2 to 6.1ft)
Turkey Vulture Sound
The Latin name for the turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, means “purifying wind.” Adult turkey vultures get their name because their red, bare heads seem like turkeys when viewed up close.
As mentioned, turkey vultures can weigh up to 5 pounds and stand 2 to 3 feet tall, and their wingspan can size up to 6 feet. They fly on large, broad wings, have spherical heads, and have bare necks.
Vultures can survive off of carrion because of several specialized adaptations. They’re more sanitary without feathers on their faces and necks, which can get dirty from contact with blood and other bodily fluids.
The vulture’s back feathers are a deep brown, while the undersides are a lighter brown. Their hair is bright red, and their eyes are a smoky brown.
Vultures are scavengers that rely heavily on carrion for food. They swoop close to the ground or fly quite high in the air to detect carrion, which they then devour.
They can eat rotting flesh without becoming sick because of their powerful digestive juices and stomach acids.
Plus, they can identify carrion from above, where it will be safe from other scavengers.
Vultures have been observed feeding on the trash and other rubbish left by humans. Typically, they won’t consume anything older than 12 to 24 hours dead, and they’ll avoid creatures that smell bad or are sickly.
Looking at their feet up close, one is more likely to think of a chicken than a hawk or eagle. Vultures may not be able to use their feet to smash through prey, but their strong beaks can easily tear through even the toughest cowhide.
To get food, they stuff their mouths with the guts of dead animals.
Turkey vultures are known to sunbathe in a tree in the early morning, with their wings spread out in a heraldic pose. They probably do this to get their core temperature back up after a cold night outside.
The sense of smell in turkey vultures is fantastic. It is an extraordinary ability among birds to detect carrion from more than a mile away.
The Turkey Vulture’s olfactory (sniffing) system is the most developed of any bird.
Unlike other carrion eaters, vultures will not eat a carcass if it is too rotten or moldy. They have a keen nose for rotting meat less than 12 to 24 hours old.
When a turkey vulture feels threatened, it will vomit on the person who caused the disturbance. However, it should not be the reason to ask, “Are turkey vultures dangerous” as it is natural to many species, even newborn vultures practice it.
To get away from a “mob” of ravens or jays, a turkey vulture can dive at 60 miles per hour. They have acute vision and can recognize sick or dead animals from a great distance.
- On the contrary, turkey vultures never construct a nest. There are reports of their nesting in really inaccessible places. Nests have been found in unusual places, including the floor of a dilapidated barn or a rotting stump six feet below the earth.
- The turkey vulture’s bald head is characteristic of the vulture family. Dead meat scraps won’t stick to the skin the way they would to feathers, thus, the skin is treated this way.
- In the early morning hours during the spring and fall migrations, you may notice a large group of turkey vultures swarming together. After a long day of travel, vultures spotted in the evening likely settle up for the night at a nearby roost.
- According to studies, turkey vultures can cover up to 200 kilometers in a single day. During their migration, turkey vultures rarely eat.
- Turkey vultures are so light that they can “float” through the sky on thermal currents (rising columns of air).
- As a result of the vultures’ proficiency in locating thermals, hawks often seek out concentrations of vultures before swooping in to benefit from the rising air.
- It’s estimated that the longest-lived turkey vultures can last for 24 years. Estimates place the median age as 20.