Talkin’ turkey vultures with Discovery Place Nature

Discovery Place Nature

In a previous blog, we talked about black vultures – one of two types of vultures found in the Charlotte area. The other type of vulture found here is the turkey vulture, also sometimes culled a turkey buzzard.

Tracked turkey vultures have lived into their forties in the wild, and that is also their typical captive life span.

How to spot a turkey vulture

Turkey vultures have bald, pinkish-brown heads and thick legs with dark brown or black feathers. They are less common in urban areas like Charlotte but still sighted fairly frequently, usually gliding high above rural roadways and open fields.

Younger turkey vultures have less vibrant heads; as they mature, most birds have brighter pinkish-red faces with ivory bills.

How turkey vultures spend their days

This species is solitary during the day and then roosts at night in communal areas like dead trees and water towers.

They have an excellent sense of smell that they use to locate carcasses. Most birds don’t have a good sense of smell, so this is highly unusual. Their cousins, the black vultures, will watch turkey vultures and then follow them to food. Unfortunately, turkey vultures are sometimes run off from the carcass by the larger, social black vultures.

If threatened, turkey vultures will hiss and hood their wings. If that does not scare away a potential threat, they will vomit the contents of their stomach at the assailant. This rather foul defense both frightens the other animal and makes the vulture lighter so it is faster in flight as it attempts to escape.

Turkey vultures and science

Thanks to their well-developed sense of smell, natural gas companies have a found a way to utilize wild turkey vultures as a safety partner. By adding the scent of rotting flesh to the gas, companies are able to know about gas leaks when they first develop by observing when vultures circle over the areas where pipelines run underground.

  • Written by
  • Erin Fisher