Sonoran Desert Naturalist >>> Field Guide >>> Desert Birds >>> Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

Photo © by Mike Plagens

Turkey Vulture patrolling the western foothills of the Estrella Mountains, Maricopa Co., Arizona, USA. 01 April 2009.

These large soaring birds have a characteristic dihedral wing pattern easily noticed from afar. From below in good light the plumage appears two-toned, black and gray-brown. The head is without feathers and conspicuously red in adults. Unlike most birds, turkey vultures have an excellent sense of smell and can detect carrion from a considerable distance. In the Sonoran Desert, they are very rare north of the Gila River during the winter months. During the rest of the year they are very common especially soaring above range lands and along highways. Road-kill has become an important food source. Zone-tailed Hawks, also found in the Sonoran Desert, often soar with Turkey Vultures and look rather similar. The tail of zone-tails have white bands - but these can be narrow and mostly to entirely concealed.

Spring, Summer and Fall Resident - Uncommon in Winter

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The turkey vulture finally also must surrender to be recycled into the web of life,photo © by Mike Plagens

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 24 April 2009,
updated 28 Dec. 2012