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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Turkey Vulture -- Cathartes aura

RANGE: Breeds from southern British Columbia, western Ontario, extreme southern Ontario and Massachusetts south throughout the remaining continental United States to South America. Winters from northern California, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, the Ohio Valley, and Pennsylvania south to the Gulf Coast, Florida, and South America.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Uses a wide variety of habitats, from the tropics and forested habitats dominated by mixed or deciduous trees to open plains and deserts, and from lowlands to mountains. Preens and roosts in tall snags or trees with open branches. May gather in groups of up to 70 birds to roost at night.

NEST: Does not build a nest. Lays eggs on the floor of caves (preferably one which has 2 entrances), on the ground inside dense shrubs, in hollow logs or stumps, on rocky outcrops or ledges, in swamps, in hollow snags, in old hawk nests, or on the floor in abandoned buildings. The eggs are usually well-hidden from view and inaccessible to predators.

FOOD: Feeds almost entirely on carrion in any state, from fresh to putrid, sighted while soaring over open fields, ridges, roads, or any type of clearing. Although partial to carrion of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish, will consume carrion of large animals. Gathers quickly after the death of an animal to feed.

REFERENCES: Brown and Amadon 1968, DeGraff et al. 1980, Grinnell and Miller 1944, Heintzelman 1979, Sprunt 1955, Terres 1980.

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