Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura


Year-round Resident

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus


Year-round Resident

Both Turkey and Black Vultures are year-round residents in the Washington metro area. There are also migrant populations of both species passing through.

Where to See Them in the Park

Turkey and Black Vultures are often seen soaring high over Monticello Park, but not perched in the park. To see a perched vulture, you should visit an area where they nest or roost. Turkey Vultures are more common than Black Vultures.

Physical Descriptions


Turkey Vulture
Turkey - Photo by William Higgins

Turkey Vulture
Turkey - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Turkey Vultures are the larger of the two species and have a longer tail. The adults have a red head and hold their wings in a V-shape known as a dihedral. The Turkey Vulture's initials are TV, and some people use the initials to remember that the dihedral is similar in shape to an old TV antenna. The bottom portion of their wings is gray, and their wingbeat is slow. Sometimes, a soaring Turkey Vulture will rock in the wind. The sexes are similar.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture in classic dihedral pose - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Black - Photo by William Higgins

Black Vultures have a black head. Young Turkey Vultures also can have a black head, so you cannot identify a Black Vulture solely by head color. Black Vultures are smaller and shorter-tailed than Turkey Vultures. Their wingbeat is faster, and their dihedral is much less pronounced. The bottom edge of their wings is black, and the best fieldmark is the light gray wing tips.

Black Vulture
Black Vulture, top view - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Black - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Black - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Turkey - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Turkey - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Black Vulture
Turkey - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

Turkey and Black Vultures are mostly silent, so there is little reason to learn their vocalizations. If you approach one that is perched, it might hiss at you.

Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture
Turkey & Black Vultures - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Notes

The New World Vultures are not in the same family as hawks and eagles. They also are not related to vultures in other parts of the world, who are in the same family as hawks and eagles. Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures locate food mostly by sight. You often see the two species soaring together. Sometimes, Black Vultures follow Turkey Vultures, hoping to share a dead animal located by the Turkey Vultures. Both species have unfeathered heads, which are easier to clean after they have been stuck into a dead animal. They only hunt for prey that is already dead.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Turkey from their head, which resembles the head of a turkey. Black from their plumage. Vulture means "tearer".
Genus Names: Cathartes means "purifier". Coragyps means "raven vulture".
Species Names: Aura is a South American name for a Turkey Vulture. Atratus means "clothed in black as if in mourning".

Turkey Vulture video footage
Black Vulture video footage

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