Turkey VultureCathartes aura (Linnaeus)
Status Rare visitant. Although there are no published nineteenth-century records, Piers' notes refer to museum specimens (not extant) taken from Clarks Harbour, Shelburne County, in fall 1892 and from Pugwash, Cumberland County, about 1899. Prior to 1960, a further dozen or so wandered to the province, and since then it has been more regular. Among the visitants after 1960, which generally appeared but briefly, two were noted first in January; three each were noted in Febnuary, March and April; five in May; three in June; five in August; two in September; four each in October and November; and one in December. These reports have come from nearly every county, from Yarmouth to Victoria. Since 1974 adult birds (along with an occasional immature in autumn) have been seen regularly over Brier Island and further up Digby Neck. From late December 1982 to early February 1983 up to seven were noted around Yarmouth, subsisting on offal from slaughtered cattle. These occurrences suggest that the Turkey Vulture may soon be found nesting in the province.
Description Length: 66-81 cm. Adults: Head and upper neck bare, skin crimson; rest of plumage blackish, paler on flight feathers; bill stout and hooked, grayish white. Immatures: Similar but head and neck are covered with dark, fur-like feathers.
Range Breeds from southern British Columbia, southern Manitoba, southern Quebec and central Maine, south throughout the United States and Central and South America.
Remarks Although classified as a bird of prey, its claws and beak are comparativeiy weak for its size and quite ineffective for capturing living prey and tearing fresh meat. Its food is confined wholly to carrion for this reason it is not only harmless but beneficial. When gliding it holds its wings somewhat above horizontal, a good field mark. Wheeling lazily in the summer sky, its effortless, graceful flight is equalled by few other birds.
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Photo courtesy of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Credits and copyright information. Last updated February 20, 1998
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