The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), also commonly known as the turkey buzzard, is one of the most common and recognizable bird species in North and South America. They are often seen soaring over semi-open habitats such as forests and grasslands where they scavenge for carrion. You may even see them near the roadside, feeding on the most recent roadkill.
Turkey Vultures have a wide range that goes from southern Canada, throughout the United States and Mexico, all the way to Tierra del Fuego in South America. Turkey vultures reside in various habitats throughout this wide range and are predominately non-migratory.
Not all turkey vulture populations are permanent residents. When you can see them may vary based on region. If you are interested in learning more about this scavenger, read on! We will discuss their habitat and distribution in greater detail throughout this article.
Turkey Vultures are one of the most common bird species in North and South America
The distribution range of the turkey vulture reaches across southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. The northernmost regions of their range in the United States and Canada are strictly breeding territories. The vultures in these regions migrate south during winter.
Their Canadian breeding ranges stretch from southern British Columbia to Quebec, with some populations reaching even farther north and east to Ontario and Newfoundland. The turkey vulture also breeds throughout the northern and central United States - from the west coast to the east coast.
Breeding ranges in the U.S. and Canada are not contiguous. Turkey vultures are absent from large swaths of the Great Plains region, including Nebraska, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, and regions of the Dakotas. Populations are also low or absent throughout Saskatchewan, northern Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Year-round turkey vulture populations are present in the southeast United States, south throughout Mexico, and the southern tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. They also breed on several islands in the Caribbean.
A turkey buzzard perched on a post
Turkey vultures inhabit numerous semi-open and open habitats throughout North and South America. Primary habitat in North America typically includes a mix of forests, open grass or shrubland, and farmland. These habitats provide the best opportunities for nesting, roosting, and foraging for carrion.
Roads and open pastures are important foraging areas, while nest sites are often located on rock outcrops or fallen trees. Preferred roosting locations are in stands of large trees where many vultures can gather away from human disturbance.
Turkey vultures predominantly inhabit subtropical dry forests in the southernmost reaches of their range. Some populations are present in wet forests, but occurrences are less common.
Turkey vultures are not a rare sight throughout North and South America. They are one of the most common scavenger birds. One or more are often seen circling or perched near roadways or agricultural areas where carrion is common. The turkey vulture is most recognizable by its pinkish, bald head.
Turkey Vulture in flight
Turkey vultures are present throughout the United States but are not year-round residents in most regions. Only populations in the southeast are non-migratory - this is also the region where they are most common.
These scavengers inhabit a mix of forested and open areas in their U.S. breeding and wintering ranges. However, they do not occur in abundance everywhere. Turkey vulture populations are low in regions of the great plains and the northwestern states.
Turkey vultures are present in southern Canada, and only during the breeding season. Their range stretches from southern British Columbia to Ontario and Newfoundland. Populations are low or absent throughout regions of Saskatchewan.
A pair of turkey vultures perched together
Turkey vultures are most common in North and South American habitats that offer a mix of forested and open areas where farms or ranchlands are also present. These regions include southeastern deciduous forests dotted with rocky outcroppings, grass/shrublands abutted by pine forests, southwestern deserts, and subtropical forests of middle and South America.
The best place to see a turkey vulture is in semi-open habitat near roads or agricultural areas where carrion is common. These birds feed exclusively on carcasses, playing a vital role in keeping the ecosystem healthy.
Turkey Vulture pictured in the wild in Arizona
Turkey vultures are present throughout the extent of their range during the summer - populations that migrated south for winter return to their northern breeding grounds throughout the United States and southern Canada.
Year-round residents remain in their middle and South American territories. There are also permanent turkey vulture populations on some Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
Turkey vultures are no longer present throughout North America in winter. They are only found in the southeast - from southern Pennsylvania to eastern Texas - and along the west coast of California to southernmost Arizona.
Populations breeding in the north migrate south to join the year-round residents in Mexico and South America. There is also some evidence of North American migrants overwintering in the Caribbean Islands.
Turkey Vulture perched in a tree in the park, during the winter
Turkey vultures roost in treetops at night. Roosts are often among large swaths of timber where several vultures can congregate together. Once a roost is chosen, the birds return there year after year.
Turkey vultures live throughout Florida. They are one of two vulture species present in the state. You can tell the turkey vulture apart from its relative, the black vulture, by the pinkish-red coloration on its head.
Turkey vultures are common throughout California. They are year-round residents along the coast and occur in the rest of the state during the breeding season.
Turkey vultures have expanded their range north and are now more common in Massachusetts. They are only present here during the breeding season, however.
A small flock of turkey vultures feeding together
Turkey vultures are native to Wisconsin. They are commonly found throughout the state during the spring through summer breeding season.
Turkey vultures are present in Ohio, where they are typically year-round residents. Relatively mild winters mean these birds do not need to migrate.
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