Turkey vultures are part of the vulture family Cathartidae, which contains some of the world’s largest birds in the form of the Californian and Andean condors.
Turkey vultures are pretty large themselves and have long, broad wings that help them soar at high altitudes. Like most vultures, Turkey vultures look robust, so how long do Turkey vultures live?
There are a few different estimates of Turkey vulture life expectancy. The most reliable estimate is around 10 to 16 years. The oldest banded wild Turkey vulture was 17 years old, but they can live astonishingly long lives in captivity. The oldest living Turkey vulture turned 48 in 2022.
On average, Turkey vultures likely live longer than 10 to 15 years in the wild. This is because they’re robust, durable birds that are highly resistant to many diseases, and they also have few natural predators.
After all, vultures feed on raw meat and are regularly exposed to many diseases, such as botulism and salmonella infection - they require high natural immunity to survive.
Read on to learn more about the lifespan of these super-tough birds!
On average, Turkey Vultures live for between ten and sixteen years in the wild
Turkey vultures live up to 17 years old in the wild. Their average lifespan is generally between 10 and 17 years old.
However, there’s good reason to think that wild Turkey vultures can live longer, as those kept in captivity regularly live for over 30 years.
There are many confirmed reports of Turkey vultures living for longer than 30 years or so in the wild, and curiously, the honors for the oldest captive Turkey vulture is currently 48 years old and is shared by two birds born in the same year.
The Gabbert Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota is home to Nero, a Turkey vulture hatched in 1974. Another Turkey vulture, named Lord Richard, lives at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek, CA, and also hatched in 1974! However, Nero hatched in April, whereas Lord Richard hatched in June.
Unfortunately, Nero died on April 19th, 2022 as a result of kidney failure. As of 2022, Lord Richard is still alive and turned 48 in June, and his birthday is celebrated every year with a cake made from watermelon and ground meat, garnished with mealworms.
For many years, legend had it that Lord Richard laid an egg and was actually a female. It wasn’t until 2018 that the bird was officially sexed as a male! Lord Richard is currently going strong and is still capable of flight.
Captive Turkey Vultures can live into their 40s
Turkey vultures are extraordinarily resilient to certain food-borne diseases, and most are thought to die from predation by land mammals, starvation, trauma, and human activity.
For example, Turkey vulture nests are often raided by land predators such as foxes, raccoons, wild dogs, and birds like eagles and raptors. Human causes include chemical contamination, collisions with vehicles and buildings, trapping, shooting, and electrocution.
Turkey vultures have relatively slow life cycles. Two eggs are incubated for 28 to 40 days. Longer incubation times are associated with higher latitudes. The nestling period is quite long, lasting for 60 to 84 days. Once fledged, Turkey vultures don’t reach sexual independence for some 3 to 5 years.
A juvenile Turkey Vulture perched with two adults
Turkey vultures have few natural predators as adults. However, nests and nestlings are predated by birds such as Bald eagles, Golden eagles, and various owls and hawks. Land mammals also raid nests and attack nestlings, including raccoons, foxes, and wild dogs.
Overall, however, Turkey vultures are intelligent, large, and alert birds that are rarely attacked as adults. While they don’t have sharp or strong claws, Turkey vultures are highly alert and tend to spot predators long before they become dangerous.
Also, they defend themselves by regurgitating semi-digested meat in the direction of their foes - so don’t mess with a Turkey vulture!
Turkey Buzzard on the ground, searching for food
The oldest known Turkey vulture is still alive today. Lord Richard, who lives at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek, CA, hatched in June 1974.
This makes the bird a remarkable 48 years old as of 2022. The vulture is a much-treasured member of the Lindsay Wildlife Experience and receives lots of treats on his birthday, including a cake, a live band, and plenty of family-orientated activities!
According to the staff at Lindsay, Richard is in good health and still flies regularly. He’s the oldest Turkey vulture on record and just about outlived another Turkey vulture named Nero, who was remarkably born in the same year. Nero died in 2021.
Turkey Vulture flying low over a marsh
As scavengers, Turkey vultures cannot rely on a steady stream of food. So instead, they gorge themselves on meat as and when it’s available. A fully-fed Turkey vulture can go for longer than 10 days without food, but they prefer to eat more frequently.
Turkey vultures have exceptionally strong digestive systems. Their stomachs contain much stronger stomach acid than human stomachs, and the birds’ intestines cultivate toxic bacteria that help them digest the toughest of foods, including bones.
A Turkey vulture’s digestive system is so powerful that it totally destroys cells and DNA, allowing these birds to eat rotting meat without issue. However, Turkey vultures still prefer fresh meat and tend to leave overly rotted meat that’s been sitting for over 24 hours or so.
A pair of Turkey Vultures feeding
Turkey vulture populations are stable, and the species isn’t considered threatened or endangered.
Turkey vultures have bald heads and necks like other vultures, which helps them stay cool during high temperatures. They push their bald skin forward from their feathers to help them cool down further, and their feathers are arranged to dissipate heat from their bodies.
These birds do have another trick up their sleeve for keeping cool, though: defecating on their feet! Birds disperse heat through their feet, so this rates as an effective method for keeping cool in super-hot conditions.
Turkey Vulture perched on a rock by the ocean
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