Beak of the Week – Turkey Vulture

✏️ By Ryan Call, Houston Audubon Young Professionals Advisory Council 2021

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Family: Cathartidae

A hardy, adaptive bird, the Turkey Vulture thrives in the Houston area and beyond. It’s a bird you can often see high above the terrain, its wings upswept in a shallow dihedral, the bird rocking back and forth as it soars overhead against the bright sky. Often seen as a black shallow V in the sky, a Turkey Vulture up close is a brown-bodied, silver-feathered, long-winged bird with a featherless, red head and extremely hooked ivory-colored beak—both of which aid in the bird’s feeding on dead animals.

Almost strictly a carrion bird, the Turkey Vulture prefers a patchwork sort of landscape—farmland and nearby forest—in which to forage and nest; after all such a landscape offers the best sort of protection and food. Turkey Vultures use both an excellent sense of smell and their sight to locate food and have “unusually well-developed olfactory organs,” according to Birds of the World. 

As for this bird’s unique qualities, you should remember that the Turkey Vulture, when distressed or threatened, will vomit in order to (hopefully) repel the agitant so that it can make an escape unharmed. Good news, though! When you visit the Houston Audubon Raptor Center to meet Laka, our resident Turkey Vulture, we’ll make sure she’s not been fed so as to minimize the risk of any unpleasantness!

Ultimately, Turkey Vultures are important to our ecosystem in and around Houston. They take care of dead animals. They clean up the area. They are, to use a cliché, nature’s garbage collectors.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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