Turkey Vulture Size

In North and South America, turkey vultures are among the most prevalent vultures. They are easily recognized by their red heads and necks (which resemble turkeys), and they frequently fly on thermals while doing their trademark lazy loops.

Turkey vultures are among the most frequent huge birds one is likely to observe when out on a drive, frequently seen around roadkill and perched on electricity towers. Although they may appear little from a distance, are they really so small up close?

How large are turkey vultures, exactly? Let’s take a look at these birds to find out. What is the size of their wingspans?


The turkey vultures are enormous birds. Their amazing wingspan is between 5 and 6 feet, and their length ranges from 24 to 28 inches on average. They may weigh up to five pounds, but often weigh around four pounds on average. The average weight of birds located in the tropics is closer to three pounds, whereas those found in the more northern parts of their range often weigh more. Males and females are around the same size, with females being a tiny bit bigger.

Turkey vultures are mostly dark brownish-black in hue as adults, with a highly unique red head that is bald. Their underwing feathers have a lighter silver-grey tint, which contrasts well with the black wing linings. They have pinkish-red colored feet and legs that lack feathers.

Young turkey vultures have much browner-looking body feathers and take around two years to achieve their mature coloration. Up until they become one year old, their heads are a grey tint before beginning to turn pink.

How big are turkey vultures?

Turkey vultures may grow up to 32 inches (2 feet 8 inches) in length, weigh up to 3 pounds, and have wingspan that can exceed 6 feet. Around two years old, they reach maturity, at which time their heads fully redden and they reach their ideal weight and size.

They are not particularly large or heavy birds, but they outperform any smaller birds in their ranges (such as finches or sparrows) and are regarded as birds of prey. Their wingspans, which are surprisingly large for their relatively modest body size and weight, can extend all the way to a man. They often live to be 20 years old in the wild and up to 24 years in captivity, making them long-lived birds.

Comparable measurements between males and females set them apart from the majority of other raptors. Since they don’t need to hunt like eagles or hawks do, their lack of sexual dimorphism is probably related to their food (from an evolutionary standpoint).

What type of animal is a turkey vulture?

The California condor and black vultures are members of the same family of scavenger birds as the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura).

With their pinkish-red bald heads, these huge, dark-feathered birds are said to resemble turkeys, thus their name.

What do turkey vultures look like?

Some of the most recognisable birds in North America are turkey vultures. They have brown body plumage with red heads and necks (blue-gray in youngsters). They can be mistaken for turkeys despite being much smaller and shaped differently than a turkey due to their feather color and naked red heads.

They feature “fingertips” on their wings that can aid in identification and separate near the ends of their wings. Their tails extend considerably over their legs, and the underside of their wings is either white or grey.

Although they normally seem white, their legs are frequently light crimson or gray. The white streaking is dried uric acid, and it is a result of their propensity to urinate on their legs to cool themselves (a behavior seen frequently in birds).

Habitat and Range

With the exception of Hawaii and Alaska, the turkey vulture has a wide range and may be found in all of South America and in every state in the United States.

The species has slowly migrated north over the last century and is currently prevalent in southern and eastern Canada. They are the most prevalent vulture to be found in the Americas, with an estimated 4.5 million individuals in their population.

While the majority of birds live permanently in the southern United States and South America, some do migrate south during the winter.

The spring migration often takes place from February through May, while the autumn migration typically doesn’t start until October or November. It is not unusual for turkey vultures to remain in their environment during mild winters.

The turkey vulture is highly versatile and diverse, and because of their requirement for a vast area, they may be found in shrublands, subtropical forests, open spaces, and deserts. They require places that may offer a steady supply of carrion as well as a secure location for breeding and roosting.

Why is their wingspan so large?

The turkey vultures are similar in size to their black vulture cousins, with the exception that their wingspan is roughly 1-1.5 feet greater. This is perhaps because the turkey vulture must fly great distances in order to get food.

However, because to their poor flying abilities, they frequently need the assistance of thermal columns to stay airborne. They may be able to capture these thermals more easily because of their larger wingspan while they are on the lookout for food.

Although black vultures are also poor fliers, their smaller bodies allow them to have slightly stronger wingbeats. The larger wingspan of the turkey vultures could enable them to keep up.

Determine if both vultures occur in the region

Finding out if both species are present in the region where you are attempting to tell them apart is the first stage in the identification process for vultures.

Only the southern and eastern states are home to the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus). The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) may be found all throughout the United States and Southern Canada, especially during the warmer months of the year.

Brown Vulture The southern states, from South Carolina to Texas, have higher concentrations of it. Since the 1940s, Black Vultures have increased their range northward along the East Coast. They now often happen in the northeastern states and southeast Canada.

Thanksgiving Vulture It is the vulture that is more common, inhabiting the majority of the United States and southern Canada. Within the same area as the Black Vulture, the Turkey Vulture is always found in the southern and northeastern states. Most of the United States and Canada are occupied by resident and migratory birds from February to November.

Where does a turkey vulture live?

The open countryside, pastures, deserts, meadows, marshes, and thinly planted woodlands are where these red-headed birds love to reside. They gather in sizable groups to roost in solitary, tranquil woodlands. Intensely wooded environments do not appeal to these birds.

The turkey vulture builds no true nest and builds its nests in isolated locations. The breeding sites are found in remote areas and odd locales including caverns, floors covered with stones, and rotting stumps. Predators of turkey vulture eggs and nestlings include raccoons, opossums, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and bald eagles.

Who do turkey vultures live with?

Turkey vultures are sociable birds that gather in large communal groups to roost in certain places that may serve as their permanent home for many generations.

During the day, they forage in small groups. The vast, circling vulture flocks are referred to as “kettles.” When soaring high, these birds fly with their wings straight outward.

The parents of the turkey vulture chick continue to visit the nest five or six times every day to feed the young birds. Within 60 to 80 days, the chick fledges. After their maiden flight, young turkey vultures stay with their parents for a few more months.

Are turkey vultures good flyers?

Typically, vultures are not good fliers. Their flapping is their biggest vulnerability. They are unable to flap quickly or with significant strength, therefore they must discover alternative means of covering great distances in quest of food. But how are they able to stay in the air for so long if they aren’t good fliers, you may be thinking.

Thermal columns are the primary aid in flight for turkey vultures and the majority of other vultures. In essence, thermal columns are hot air pillars that rise into the sky.

A vulture may utilize its broad wingspan to lift the heated air when it strikes one of these columns. They can fly more easily and comfortably with this technique since they don’t need to flap to stay in the air.

A vulture’s distinctive “wobble” makes it simple to identify one when it is in the air. They wobble when flying at low altitudes and in their circular patterns.

The vultures are using small-scale turbulence to wobble, or “contorted soaring,” in order to stay in the air for longer. They wobble because of the air currents, which makes them feel like they are riding on the back of a bus.


Due to their social nature, turkey vultures like to roost in big groups. Numerous vultures in a communal roost frequently have their wings stretched out, which is supposed to assist the body stay warm.

The turkey vulture has exceptional flying control and is remarkably elegant in flight. They can soar for extended periods of time with little to no effort thanks to their broad wingspan. They are vulnerable to strong wind currents because of their small weight and broad wings, and as they adapt, they may be seen rocking and swaying.

Why do turkey vultures circle?

Like many other vulture species, turkey vultures circle. There are a few possible causes for this. But it’s vital to understand that this isn’t a flock of vultures waiting for a dead animal.

Although this is frequently how they are portrayed in movies, it is not always the case. A vulture that is circling is often searching for food but hasn’t yet located anything. The vultures are circling to cover ground without expending too much energy by utilising the thermals.

A vulture may also circle because it has located food but wants to make sure there are no predators in the area.

Since there aren’t enough scavengers in eastern North America to scare a vulture away, this isn’t as important there, but it could be crucial for Old World vultures in Africa and Asia. Being attacked by a group of hyenas might be avoided by taking a brief look at a kill.

Turkey vultures stand out from other vultures because of their highly acute sense of smell. The majority of vultures cannot smell, therefore they must only use their eyes to locate carrion.

A turkey vulture is a skilled hunter since it has one of the best senses of smell in the whole bird kingdom. In fact, because of their keen sense of smell, black vultures frequently circle above turkey vultures as they wait for them to detect the smell of dead flesh. The black vulture will imitate the turkey vulture after it has located food.

Tell them apart by the head

Perhaps the quickest method to distinguish between a Black Vulture and a Turkey Vulture is by looking at the differences in their heads.

Brown Vulture The skin on the head and throat is tightly folded and dark gray in color. In comparison to the Turkey Vulture, the bill is thinner and somewhat longer. The tip of the black bill is lighter in color. The nostrils are little and barely perceptible. Young birds have dark heads as opposed to gray ones.

Thanksgiving Vulture The skin of the folded head is crimson. Individuals of particular ages as well as members of various ethnicities exhibit varying degrees of the red hue and pattern.

The bill has a distinct hook and is entirely white. Look closely to see the Turkey Vulture’s perforated nostrils, which allow for clear visibility. The heads of young birds are black, but as they age, they become red.

What is a turkey vulture’s habitat?

Turkey vultures live throughout North America, South America, and Southern Canada. In order to escape the bitter cold during the winter, the turkey vulture population from their northern habitat migrates to milder South American nations.

Open spaces like mixed farms, poorly vegetated woodlands, semi-desert regions, grasslands, and rangeland are excellent habitat for turkey vultures. Some locations where they can be seen feasting on dead animals are landfills and roadside edges.

These vultures spend the night perched on trees, huge boulders, and other lofty, remote locations.

Where do turkey vultures rank in terms of their wingspan?

The wingspan of turkey vultures is considerable, although it is not the longest in the world or even in North America. In reality, the California condor, a relative of the turkey vulture, has the widest wingspan of any bird in North America. The California condor may reach a wingspan of ten feet and weighs up to twenty pounds.

A little farther down the list, maybe around position 7, is the turkey vulture. The osprey often has a wingspan that is 6 feet longer than theirs, on average. Great gray owls, on the other hand, have significantly smaller wingspans than turkey vultures. Their usual wingspan is about five feet.


The monogamous Turkey Vulture has lifelong partners. In reality, a pair’s nesting location is more like a hollow stump or a rocky cave. The nesting place is often far away from their roosting habitat and is significantly distinct from both.

It is typical for the female to deposit two eggs between April and May. No nesting material is used to safeguard the eggs when they are placed on the ground. The incubation phase lasts roughly 40 days, and both parents are equally responsible for it.

Infants are covered in a dense layer of white down. The chick must depend on its parents for sustenance for up to eleven weeks while it is developing. The parents feed their young by regurgitating partially digested food since they are unable to transport their nourishment.

For several months, the young vultures stay with their parents and feed off of them. Turkey vultures only reproduce every other year due to this extended time of dependence.