Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Appearance/Behavior: This large (64 – 81 cm) bird has a featherless head (blue arrow) with a hooked bill.  Dark brown, with wings slightly lighter and lacking distinctive white barring (red arrow), it has relatively short legs.  Although only single turkey vultures visit at a given time, they may be joined at the compost pile by crows or red-shouldered hawks.

Relative Frequency of Visitation in Study: A somewhat rare visitor.

Seasonal Activity: Potentially year-round, but most visitation in spring.

Daily ActivityDiurnal.

Similar Species:  The turkey vulture may be confused with three other compost pile visitors: red-tailed hawk, the red-shouldered hawk or the wild turkey.  Although the red-tailed hawk has substantial dark brown plumage, like the turkey vulture, it has a feathered head, unlike the vulture. The red-shouldered hawk has a lighter rusty color and a feathered head.  The wild turkey is a larger bird with longer legs.  It has a bare head, like the turkey vulture, but with a beak that has less of a hooked profile.  The wild turkey’s primary (flight) feathers are barred with white, while the turkey vulture’s wing feathers lack white barring.

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