Turkey vulture

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More names for this bird

Anishinaabemowin: Wiinaange

The Dakota and Anishinaabe were among the earliest people to name Minnesota’s plants and animals, as well as to understand them in relation to Minnesota’s climate and seasons. Those original names are still in use, and several are included on the Season Watch website. However, complete translations were not available.

Latin (or scientific name): Cathartes aura

The scientific community has a convention of assigning agreed-upon Latin names to every kind of organism. Using scientific names helps people communicate confidently about the same organism and organize lifeforms based on how closely related they are.

A turkey vulture is perched on a tree snag. It has a red featherless head and its large body is covered in black feathers that shine in the sunlight.
Turkey vulture in spring
May 19, 2017, Lake County, Minnesota
Photo © Nathan Cross, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
iNaturalist observation

About the turkey vulture

  • Turkey vultures are large, black birds with a wingspan up to a six feet. The skin on their featherless heads is bright red on adult birds.
  • Turkey vultures feed primarily on dead animals.
  • Female turkey vultures lay two eggs in a clutch. Both parents incubate the eggs, which hatch after twenty-eight to forty-one days.
  • Fun fact: Turkey vultures are said to “wobble” in flight and hold their wings in a distinctive “V” shape. This can help distinguish turkey vultures from eagles and hawks in flight.
  • Turkey vultures migrate. Expand the "Migration animation" section below to learn more.

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Migration animation

Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.

Video file

More about eBird's abundance animations

eBird data from 2006-2020. Estimated for 2020. Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, W. Hochachka, L. Jaromczyk, C. Wood, I. Davies, M. Iliff, L. Seitz. 2021. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2020; Released: 2021. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2020

Visual guide to phenology

Watch for changes in turkey vultures' presence (or absence), abundance, and behaviors at different times of year. Also, pay attention to when young-of-year appear and develop.

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Note to observers

This page explains general clues to watch for when observing turkey vulture phenology. However, this page does not explain how to identify this bird or collect data in a standardized way.

Turkey vulture perched on a cactus. It has a red head without feathers. Its body feathers are black and shine in the sun.
This photo looks up at a pale blue sky where over twenty vultures are flying. One can tell they are all soaring because their wings are all outspread.
Sixteen turkey vultures gather on the side of a road to feed on roadkill. The background is an agricultural scene with a distant forest.
A turkey vulture is perched at the mouth of a shallow rock cave. There, in the shadows, is at least one nestling.
A pair of turkey vultures perch on pale pink granite boulders in an open grassland setting.
Looking up at a pale blue, overcast sky, a lose group of about forty-five turkey vultures are soaring.

Graphs and historical data

Note: The Orientation Center provides a map, as well as information on reading graphs; interpreting summary statistics, who collected the data and how; and how to download datasets for independent exploration.

Hubbard County

First seen

  • Earliest: March 31 (occurred in 2010)
  • Average: April 8
  • Latest: April 22 (occurred in 2013)
Scatterplot showing turkey vulture phenology observations in Hubbard County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)

Sherburne County


  • Earliest: March 8 (occurred in 1995)
  • Average: April 5
  • Latest: May 14 (occurred in 1998)
Scatterplot showing turkey vulture phenology observations in Sherburne County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)