The Turkey Vulture

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

A scavenger with an excellent sense of smell

by Catherine McNiff
turkey vulture perched on branch poised for flight

AP Photo, Elliott Minor

Related Links

"Vulture," is the common name for large birds of prey of temperate and tropical regions. Vultures feed voraciously and indiscriminately, chiefly on carrion. Because they have weak beaks and lack the strength of other birds of prey, they rarely attack other than helpless animals. Most vultures have dark plumage and small, naked heads. In the adult turkey vulture, or turkey buzzard, Cathartes aura (wingspread 6 ft/1.9 m), the head is red; in the smaller black vulture it is black; and in the tropical king vulture (with cream and black plumage) it is orange, crimson, and purple, with a neck ruff of gray down.

Fun Facts

  • A vulture of the Pleistocene epoch was the largest bird that ever existed, with a wingspread of 16 to 17 ft (4.9–5.1 m)
  • Vultures are frequently called buzzards , although the name is more correctly applied to hawks of the genus Buteo. Vultures are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Falconiformes, families Cathartidae and Accipitridae.
  • As valuable scavengers they are protected by law.
  • For more information, click here and turn to pages 31; 34–35 to read about the vulture: bird of prey.
More about Animals
Sources +
See also: