Two species of vultures occur in North America. Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura, Figure 1) are larger than black vultures (Coragyps atratus, Figure 2). Both are scavengers and play an important role in removing carrion from the environment.
Vultures are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, administered by the USDI-Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). A permit is required to trap, kill, relocate, or otherwise handle vultures or their eggs. Federal and state permit applications are available from USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS). Permit applications are processed by the USFWS. The WS offers technical and operational assistance to the public and other government agencies.
Turkey vultures are dark brown-black with a featherless, bright red head (adult) or brown head (juvenile), and a relatively long, narrow tail. The undersides of the wings are gray, except along the leading edges, which are black. Wing span averages 67 inches. Turkey vultures weigh about 4 pounds and may live up to 16 years.
Turkey vultures have become abundant throughout the US (Figure 3).
Range of the black vulture (Figure 4) is centered in the Southeast US, though they have extended their range northward into Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania over the past 50 years.
Voices and Sounds
Vultures hiss and grunt.
Tracks and Signs
Vultures have a footprint with three distinct toes (Figure 4). They fly with their wings formed in a “V” shape (Figure 5).