Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Back to Animals on Oceanscape

When one thinks about the bird-life along the coast, they may not immediately consider this large scavenger. But as with any ecosystem, scavengers are an important element to nature’s eternal cycle of renewal. The Turkey Vulture’s diet consists only of carrion, so they can be commonly found at the edge of roads feeding on road-kill or picking away at dead marine animals washed up on local beaches. Their large wingspan allows them to float on thermal updrafts without expending much energy. Even at great heights, their superior sense of smell can detect ethyl mercaptan – a gas produced by rotting bodies. Once found, the birds will congregate in the area by large numbers. Their Latin name means “purifier.”

Intelligent and curious birds, vultures live and roost in large groups although they will generally forage alone. In terms of reproduction, females will generally lay no more than two eggs which she and the male will take turns caring for. The chicks break out of the eggs in about thirty to forty days and are cared for by their parents for the next eleven weeks. The parents and young will flock together throughout the following fall, then part company permanently.

Range and Habitat

Ranges widely throughout Oregon, across North America as far north as Canada and south to the tip of South America. Roosts are commonly in trees, cliffs, burrows, caves or on tall buildings.

Conservation Status

Common. Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Dining on the Dead

Often maligned or misunderstood, scavenger animals are a vital part of the natural environment. In this video, a aviculturist at the Oregon Coast Aquarium discusses the ecological role – and some very unusual adaptations – of the Turkey Vulture.