Family New World Vultures (Cathartidae)

Least Concern

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)


French: Urubu à tête rouge German: Truthahngeier Spanish: Aura gallipavo

Vultur aura


, 1758,

Veracruz, Mexico


Some forms currently considered races of present species may prove to merit treatment as full species, e.g. has been suggested that resident ruficollis and S race jota (including “falklandicus”) possibly separate species from mostly migratory N nominate and septentrionalis#R. N populations of nominate race sometimes separated as meridionalis, and lowland populations from S coastal Ecuador to Chile and Falkland Is as falklandicus, but variation seems to be generally clinal. Further study required. Four subspecies usually recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. a. aura Linnaeus, 1758 – W North America from SW Canada (E to S Manitoba) and W USA (E to S Texas) S to Costa Rica, also Greater Antilles; in winter S to C South America.
  • C. a. septentrionalis Wied, 1839 – E North America from SE Canada (E Ontario, Quebec) S to SE USA (E from Louisiana); N populations winter S to SE USA.
  • C. a. ruficollis Spix, 1824 – S Central America (S from Costa Rica) and lowland South America; Trinidad.
  • C. a. jota (Molina, 1782) – Pacific coast of South America (S from Ecuador), E Andes, Patagonia and Falkland Is.
  • Introduced (nominate aura) to Puerto Rico.

    Descriptive notes

    62–81 cm; 850–2000 g; wingspan 160–182 cm. Size variable. Brownish black, with only slight iridescence on plumage. Head and neck bare, sometimes with... read more


    Generally silent. Occasional low quiet hiss or grunt.


    Found in an extreme range of habitats, from total desert in coastal Peru, through grasslands,... read more

    Food and feeding

    A more exclusive scavenger than Coragyps atratus, rarely killing even small prey items, and relying on finding carcasses. Even... read more


    Well studied in North America, very poorly known in tropical areas (despite the species’ great abundance). Egg-laying in Mar in... read more


    North American races almost wholly migratory, moving to S USA and funnelling through Middle America... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Widespread and abundant. Global population almost certainly totals several millions of individuals. Huge numbers migrate through... read more

    Recommended citation

    Houston, D., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 29 February 2020).