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Animal Information

Turkey Vulture Big Sky Country

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Biome: Big Sky Country

Classification: Birds

Biography: Lacking the strong grasping talons needed for killing live prey, turkey vultures eat carrion, the flesh of dead animals. Vultures spend hours soaring over the countryside, with their long wings held in a shallow "V" while tilting from side to side. Excellent eyesight and a well-developed sense of smell are used to locate carcasses on the ground. Despite an unseemly diet, these scavengers are remarkably hygienic in design. Their trademark bare heads and necks are easier than feathers to keep clean after a meal. In the morning, vultures bask in the sun with outstretched wings. The black color of their feathers absorbs sunlight, warming their bodies and killing bacteria. Turkey vultures are normally silent, but will hiss and grunt if disturbed. When threatened, they also regurgitate recently eaten food to help drive off the intruder while reducing their weight for a speedy takeoff.

Turkey vultures are commonly found throughout most of the United States, Central and South America. Their range has recently expanded northward into southern Canada. Favored breeding habitat includes remote areas inaccessible to predators, and eggs are often laid in cave entrances, hollow logs or on steep cliffs.

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