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Turkey Vultures

Are you looking to get your daily dose of culture? Well look no further—we’re learning about vultures!

Have you ever seen a group of large birds circling and soaring in the sky together? Odds are, this is a group of vultures. There are two species of vultures that live in Ohio: the turkey vulture and the black vulture. Today we are focusing on the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).



Turkey vultures are large, broad-winged birds that eat carrion, or dead animals. Think of vultures as nature’s organic recyclers! While not always the most popular large bird, vultures are extremely important to a healthy ecosystem. They help to clean up roadkill, leftovers from predators, and so much more! We’re lucky to live in a world with vultures!

Turkey vultures have many adaptations to help them survive. Have you ever noticed how large the nostrils of a turkey vulture are? They use these large nostrils to help them locate their food, carrion, from long distances away. They have a great sense of smell—much better than humans! Since dead things begin to smell over time, this adaptation helps them to pinpoint exactly where it is located. You might notice a few turkey vultures gathered near the side of a road when you’re driving. They are likely sharing a tasty roadkill meal!



Other physical adaptations that turkey vultures have include their sharp beak, which is used for tearing up their food. Their featherless, red head gives them a similar appearance to wild turkeys, hence the name “turkey vulture.” Considering that these animals eat dead things that can quickly begin to grow bacteria and other pathogens, the turkey vulture’s featherless head keeps them a bit cleaner as they feast upon their meal. Additionally, vultures have incredibly strong stomach acids that help keep them safe while digesting these meals.

A common misconception about turkey vultures is that their soaring, circling behavior is due to something dead being in the area. The true reason these vultures do this is because they are flying on thermal updrafts in the air, letting them soar for longer periods of time without flapping their wings and using up their energy. Think about when you do something while standing versus sitting. One of these uses more energy than the other!



Turkey vultures will commonly roost, or settle in for the night, in communal areas with other vultures. One such place exists at the Reigart Road Area of Rentschler Forest MetroPark! Dozens of turkey vultures have been seen roosting along the Tall Pines Trail. You might be able to spot them roosting early in the morning when the park first opens, or in the evenings before it closes. Otherwise, you can find their droppings while walking the trail—evidence that they spend much of their time here—and they are a near-constant sight soaring in the skies in the MetroParks.

Thank a turkey vulture the next time you see one! These natural recycles help keep our world clean.