My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

The Turkey Vulture , also known in some North American regions as the turkey buzzard (or just buzzard), is the most widespread of the New World vultures. One of three species in the genus Cathartes, in the family Cathartidae, the Turkey Vulture ranges from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrubland, pastures, and deserts.

It, like all New World vultures, is not related to the Old World vultures of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It looks nearly identical because of convergent evolution, where natural selection similarly shapes unrelated animals adapting to the same conditions.

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. It nests in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. Each year it generally raises two chicks, which it feeds by regurgitation. It has very few natural predators.

On to my photos:

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vultures

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

This is number 96 in my photo life list, only 254 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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13 responses

  1. We have a lot of these around here, so we must have plenty of dead animals in the woods. They won’t win a beauty prizes but the forest would be a very different place without them.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:28 am

    • Thanks, you’re right, they fill a niche where they would be missed if they didn’t exist.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

  2. Dear me, that is not the handsomest bird in North America, is it? 😉

    May 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    • No, they’re not, but they do serve a very useful purpose, one that I am glad that they perform.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      • True dat!

        May 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm

  3. If there is one bird that I know I have seen just about anywhere I’ve ever been, it would be the Turkey Vulture.
    “…feeds almost exclusively on carrion” and raises it’s chicks “which it feeds by regurgitation”. I realize human’s and vulture’s perspectives are drastically different, but sometimes maybe nature is pushing the envelope too far? I never thought to put those two things together before.

    May 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    • Well, nature is what it is. That may not always be pretty by our standards, but is driven by survival, and finding a niche to fill.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:34 am

      • Exactly.

        May 22, 2013 at 6:36 am

  4. Curious name.

    May 21, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  5. With a face that only a mother could love.

    May 22, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    • Thanks, but I’m not even sure about that.

      May 23, 2013 at 2:18 am

  6. I suspect that part of what most folks find so ugly about this bird is the bald head (unlike the so-called bald of the white-headed eagle)…. I suspect that the lack of feathers has something to do with its diet… easier to keep a featherless head clean when it’s been dumpster diving.

    May 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    • Thank you, you’re exactly right!

      May 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm