Blogpost written by PCMN: Kathleen McLin
Black and Turkey Vultures may strike fear into some individuals but to me they are unique, fascinating birds.
Their scientific name Cathartes aura is Latin for “ cleansing breeze”. Their bald head prevents carrion from sticking and rotting as they dig into carcasses. Strong internal enzymes destroy bacteria from the rotting meat they eat to keep them healthy. These birds do not have talons like Raptors. Their feet are more like that of a chicken. They use their strong well developed beaks to tear at hide and meat.
Turkey Vultures have a highly developed sense of smell and can locate a dead animal in as little as 12 hours after death and up to a mile away. Black Vultures lack this keen ability and fly higher than their lower flying Turkey Vulture cousins to locate a meal. Both have 2 nostrils that are large and open so it is possible to see right thru them. If a piece of meat gets lodged in the cavity it can be removed by a talon.
A large number of these birds is called a kettle. Both species may share a meal but it is the larger Turkey Vulture who eats first.
Vultures can hiss or grunt but have no other vocalizations as they have no voice box. We receive injured, both Turkey and Black Vultures at the Tucson Wildlife Center from time to time. Upon arrival I very much look forward to helping with their recovery. Holding one, seeing it so close up is a memorable experience.
They weigh only 2 to 4 lbs. with a wing spread of up to 6 feet. Freaky amazing!