Turkey Buzzard, the popular name of one of the common American vultures, cathartes (rhinogryphus) aura (Illig.). It is about 2½ ft. long and 6 ft. in extent of wings; the bill is long and comparatively slender, with an arched, strong tip; a large soft cere, two thirds the length of the bill, in which the pervious nostrils are placed; wings long and pointed, the third and fourth quills nearly equal and longest; tail moderate and nearly even; tarsi short, plumed below the knee, and with small scales; toes weak, united by a small membrane, hind one short and weak, and claws strong; head and neck naked, no fleshy crest, and the plumage black. All the vultures which have the nostrils horizontal and perforate, with a basal web between the middle and inner toes, belong to the new world. The color is brownish black, with a purplish lustre, darkest on the back and upper part of tail, and some pale edgings; bill yellowish; head and neck bright red, with a few scattered hair-like feathers and wrinkled skin; plumage commencing on the neck with a circular ruff of prominent feathers.
It is found all over North America, except the arctic regions, going on the Pacific coast as far N. as the British possessions, but on the Atlantic rarely seen N. of New Jersey; but it is most abundant in the southern states, migrating thither from the colder parts. It is essentially a carrion eater, though it will devour any kind of fresh meat, and even small living mammals, birds, and reptiles; it has been known to attack and kill weak and sickly animals in the fields. It associates in flocks of 25 to 30, even when not feeding, becoming very familiar in the southern cities, where it devours any carrion or animal filth left in the streets. It finds out its prey at a great distance, and sails for miles without apparent effort, with the tips of the wings bent upward by the weight of the body; it is often seen in company with the black vulture, hawks, kites, and crows; it is also a good walker. Its average weight is 6½ lbs., which is somewhat less than that of the black vulture. It is fond of particular roosting places, generally high and dead cypresses in deep swamps; it is very sensitive to cold, and liable to disease about the eyes and legs in the shape of warts and excrescences; when alarmed or provoked it utters a loud hissing noise.
In the southern states the breeding season begins early in February, the nest being usually placed in the hollow of a dead tree, or, it is said, even on the ground, and containing two eggs, -2½ by 2 in., light cream-colored, with black and brown marks; both sexes incubate, each feeding the other and the young with the disgorged contents of the stomach; incubation lasts 32 days; only one brood is raised yearly.
Turkey Buzzard (Cathartes aura).