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The Zoo has two female turkey vultures named Ralph and Chuck. Their hatch dates are estimated to be in 2006. Both birds were donated to the Zoo on May 2, 2007 by a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Michigan. They were hatched in the wild but wing injuries left both birds unable to fly.
Look for us early in the morning, sunning with our wings outspread, on the roof of our hut.
Despite the similarities in appearance and lifestyle between the new and old world vultures, scientists now believe that new world vultures, like the turkey vulture, are more closely related to the storks. Unlike most birds, the turkey vulture has a very good sense of smell. This helps them to seek out hidden carcasses or detect food from long distances away. Their distinctive red, bare head contrasting against the black body feathers, makes the turkey vulture easy to distinguish from other birds.
Average lifespan in the wild is about 17 years.
You’re probably more familiar with the turkey vulture than you think. They are often circling overhead near highways taking advantage of the heat rising off of the roadway that helps them lift higher in the sky. Much of the behavior of the turkey vulture can be thought of as ways to save energy. Their use of thermals to rise in the air and the soaring flight allow them to travel long distances to search for food without expending much energy. This is important because, as scavengers, they have little control over the availability of food and will often go a long time between meals.
Turkey vultures can nest in a variety of locations and have been found nesting in shallow caves, in large nest cavities or even on the ground in dense undergrowth. Normal clutches contain 2 eggs which hatch after 38 to 41 days. Both parents care for the eggs and chicks. Chicks are ready to fledge 2.5 to 3 months after hatching.
Turkey vultures stand about 25- 30 inches in height with a wingspan that can reach 6 ft across.
Weights can be quite variable ranging from under a pound to over 4 lbs.
The turkey vulture is a scavenger. In the wild these large birds of prey actively seek out and consume carrion. The birds use their sense of smell to locate the carrion, which releases gasses as it decays. At the Zoo the birds are offered a variety of whole prey but prefer mice. Unlike the Andean condors, which readily accept meat complete feeds, these birds will not eat commercially prepared meat diets. To ensure the birds receive the vitamins and minerals they require, supplements are added to their diet weekly.
Turkey vultures are found in a wide variety of habitats throughout North, Central and South America. The northern subspecies of turkey vulture migrate south in the winter.
To learn more about the conservation efforts at the Philadelphia Zoo, click here.
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