There are New World and Old World vultures. Turkey vultures are considered a New World vulture. New World vultures are found in North and South America, while Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa and Asia. Between the two groups, vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Buzzard is another word used to describe a vulture.
Turkey vultures soar with wings in an upward angle, rocking and tilting unsteadily. They have a wingspan up to six feet. Although they are large in size, they are very light in weight, only two to four pounds. This enables them to soar in the sky using the thermal currents easily. Vultures are birds seen scavenging on the carcasses of dead animals. Vultures rarely attack healthy animals, but may kill the wounded or sick. When a carcass has too thick a hide for its beak to open, it waits for a larger scavenger to eat first. They gorge themselves when prey is abundant, until their crop bulges, then sit lethargically to digest their food. These birds do not carry food to their young in their claws, but disgorge it from the crop. Vultures have corrosive stomach acid which allows them to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with botulism, hog cholera, or anthrax bacteria, which would be lethal to other scavengers. Their most striking feature of the Turkey vulture is their bald heads which lacks feathers, the adults have red heads, while immature heads are dark. This helps keep the head clean when feeding and plays a role in thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is observed when they hunch their bodies and tuck in their heads in the cold, or open their wings and stretch their necks in the heat. Turkey vultures are great clean-up animals, they reduce the spread of disease by eating dead carcasses.
Turkey vultures were once threatened by the DDT. Their numbers increased since the 1960’s. Today, they are one of the most common large carniverous birds in North America. Threats to them today can be poisons from the dead carcasses they eat or lead-poisoning and fragments from bullets in carcasses.
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