Friday, December 9, 2011

The Turkey Vulture

One of the most common large birds in many parts of North America, the majestically-soaring turkey vulture is rarely as appreciated as eagles, hawks, or even the closely-related California condor.
Part of the reason the turkey vulture never gets its due may have to do with its looks. The bird gets its name from its bald head and dark plumage resembling that of a wild turkey. However, once this vulture spreads its six foot wings and begins soaring, it’s obvious this is no turkey.
Often incorrectly referred to as buzzards, which is actually a European term for many buteo species of hawks, turkey vultures can be found throughout South America, Central America, and southern parts of the United States year-round; in warmer months they may live as far north as Canada. They primarily live in large roosts of up to several hundred birds and prefer open country over heavily forested areas.

Turkey vultures are scavengers that feed almost exclusively on carrion. By removing and consuming animal carcasses, they perform an important role in local ecosystems by reducing the spread of disease.

Turkey vultures are sometimes unjustly blamed for killing newborn cattle. In reality, this is usually the work of the black vulture, a similarly-sized bird that sometimes does roost with turkey vultures.

Though not currently endangered or threatened, the turkey vulture is protected under Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Killing or possessing a turkey vulture can result in a $15,000 fine and six months in prison.

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