Turkey Vulture

Turkey vultures are one of two "New World vultures" that can be found at Fossil Rim. This status refers to their wide range throughout North America down into South America. They are a volunteer species at Fossil Rim, meaning that they are not captive and choose to live here. 


Turkey Vultures are fairly large bird species, with a wingspan between two and three feet on average. Males and females typically look the same, with muddy brown or black body feathers. Their flight feathers underneath their wings can be gray or white, and their head is bare. The skin on their head and neck is a bright red, making them easy to identify compared to their cousin the Black Vulture. Their beaks are light in color, matching their eyes, which are typically a light gray or brown. 


Turkey vultures, like their relatives, have evolved to consume carrion without becoming ill. Their bodies contain a special mix of bacteria on their face and in their stomach that combat parasites and other toxins. By eating decaying matter, they help protect other species from developing diseases spread by dead animals. 

Turkey vultures are one of the more widespread New World vulture species, with a range in dozens of countries across North and South America. In fact, their total global occurrence is estimated to cover around 11 million square miles.

Vulture, Condor, or both?

If you know anything about vultures, you may be familiar with their larger relatives, the condor. Though these birds are all in the same family, it's a bit of a square versus rectangle situation; all condors are vultures, but not all vultures are condors.

The main difference between condors and vultures is their size. Condors tend to be much large than a typical vulture. In fact, the Andean condor has a wingspan as big as 10 feet, and can weigh over 30 pounds. Although these birds still eat carrion, they are able to consume much more meat from much larger animals. A general rule is that unless you are in the Southwestern United States or the Andean mountains, you are almost always seeing a vulture and not a condor. 

Where are they?

Turkey vultures can be seen anywhere in the park, usually above you.

Keep an eye out for a flash of light-colored feathers or a red head to determine if the vulture above you is a black or turkey vulture.

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Cathartes aura

Species Survival Plan



Open grasslands with sparse woodland


carrion, small animals

Originally Native To

North, South and Central America


Dark body feathers with light-colored flight plumage and a red neck and head.


16 years in the wild,
Captivity 30 years

Social Behavior

Large roosts, occasionally forage alone.