Bird Database

Turkey Vulture

(Cathartes aura)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly increasing



Conservation Actions

None identifified

Turkey Vulture

(Cathartes aura)

Turkey Vultures are a relatively recent addition to New Hampshire’s avifauna, having expanded their range northward starting in the mid-1900s. They didn’t become regular in southern New Hampshire until the 1960s and weren’t recorded nesting until 1979. It’s likely they bred earlier however, since nests can be extremely hard to find. Vultures usually lay two eggs in a cave, jumble of boulders, or large hollow logs, and generally largely in inaccessible places. If you happen to stumble upon a nest you’re likely to be greeted by an unnerving hiss from the chicks, a noise that sometimes sounds like a rattlesnake rattle. If you get too close, there’s a reasonable chance the young birds will regurgitate in your direction.

Given what Turkey Vultures eat, getting regurgitated on is not a good idea. This species is a near obligate scavenger, and even possesses stomach enzymes that are powerful enough to kill harmful microbes. At the same time, a couple of species of “flesh-eating” bacteria live quite successfully in vulture guts and perhaps help them digest their meals of carrion. To find that carrion, Turkey Vultures have yet another impressive adaptation: one of the most strongly developed senses of smell in any animal. They can detect a rotting carcass even if hidden from view and travel long distances by following scents on the wind.

It has been speculated that the northward expansion of the Turkey Vulture was in some way corelated with expansion of roads – and thus roadkill – in the United States during the 20th century. Whatever the cause, they’ve spread throughout the state, and are now even becoming increasingly common as winter residents in the southeastern portion of the state. No matter the time of year, vultures take a little time to get going in the morning, often waiting until the air has warmed up enough to facilitate soaring. You’ll often see them perched on tall structures with their wings spread to catch the morning sun, and in winter they’ll sometimes perch on chimneys. At the opposite extreme, on hot days vultures will defecate on their legs and feet to cool off, the closest thing they have to the mammalian option of sweating.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Turkey Vulture
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count