There are six subspecies of turkey vultures: three in North America and three in South and Central America. Cathartes aura septentrionalis is found in the eastern United States and west into Minnesota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas. Cathartes aura meridionalis is located mainly west of C. a. septentrionalis and into Baja California, excluding the lower Colorado River valley. Cathartes aura aura is found in the lower Colorado River valley, including most of Arizona, and in southern New Mexico and Texas. Cathartes aura ruficollis is found from Costa Rica south to northern Argentina and east of the Andes, Cathartes aura jota is found in the highlands of southern Colombia through Argentina, and Cathartes aura falklandica is found west of the Andes from Ecuador and Peru through Chile and on the Falkland Islands.
Depending on the subspecies, turkey vultures vary from 0.85 to 2 kg and can have a total length between 64 and 81 cm. Sexes do not differ, all have a brownish black plumage with a bare head and neck. The head and neck skin color can vary from pink to bright red. Turkey vultures are commonly mistaken for black vultures. However, they can be distinguished by their grey primary and secondary feathers and their black head and neck color.
Based on their wing surface to weight ratio, turkey vultures have light wing loading. This makes them more buoyant in air than other vultures and better able to utilize thermals to help them stay in flight with minimal energy usage.
Range mass: 0.85 to 2.00 kg.
Range length: 64 to 81 cm.
Range wingspan: 170 to 183 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
- Palmer, R. 1988. Handbook of North American Birds, Volume 4. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
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