Cascades Raptor Center

Resident Bird -Turkey Vulture

Kali & Lethe

Lethe Kali  Probably a female by size, was found as one of two eggs in a nest at a logging site; the parents had apparently abandoned the nest due to the disturbance. Incubated artificially, the eggs were turned over to a rehabilitator when they hatched, 30 days later. Although every precaution was taken to keep her from imprinting on humans (with a sibling and in sight of an adult bird 24/7, fed by humans in 'ghost' costumes while facing the adult, the adult eating in front of the babies, and the babies only seeing uncostumed humans at stressful times, e.g., when being weighed or cleaned), on release, even with her sibling and wild vultures present, she kept coming down to humans, including children. Her sibling did start to become more wary of humans but was unfortunately electrocuted. Kali was placed at CRC in November 2003. (Kali is glove-trained.)  Adopt Kali

Lethe Lethe  Hatched in 2000, was raised at a wildlife rehabilitation center in California. Despite precautions to keep him from imprinting on humans, he became highly socialized and upon release at a state park, kept coming down to people (particularly women) to play with their shoelaces! Even after a return to captivity and several months in isolation from people in a large flight cage with other vultures, he preferred human companionship. He was transferred to CRC as non-releasable in late April 2001.
(Lethe is glove-trained.)  Adopt Lethe

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Courtesy of Barbara Gleason This is a large, black to blackish-brown bird with a bare head and neck. Sexes are similar in size and plumage. Its beak is sturdy and pale, with large, oval, perforate nostrils; eyes are gray-brown. The long, slim, rounded tail extends more than half its length beyond folded wings when the bird is perched. The naked skin of the head and neck is black in young vultures, fades first to gray as they mature, then turns red, becoming wrinkled and warty as they reach adulthood. Although legs and feet are flesh-colored to deep red, they may appear pale due to this bird's habit of defecating on its legs to regulate body temperature in the heat. Courtesy of Brian Lanker This vulture glides and soars with its wings in a tilting, flattened v-shape, circling up on thermal air currents, seeking food with its acute sense of smell. The underside of the wings show a pale, silvery lining in flight. Although it resembles a hawk when seen in the air, this bird is not a raptor. Turkey Vultures are more closely related to storks than to true vultures, like those of the Old World. The weak beak and claws of this species are not those of a predator, but of a carrion eater.


Size - Length: 25 - 32" • Wing Span: 68 - 72" • Weight: 3 - 4 lb.

Status - Federally protected.

Habitat - Found in plains, farmland, deserts, and forests: wherever open foraging areas exist near trees for roosting. Ridges and hillsides are preferred in the northern part of its range, where uplands create rising air currents for soaring. Once widespread on the Great Plains in the time of the buffalo herds, this adaptable vulture now circles over roads and garbage dumps in search of meals. May establish large, communal roosts near reliable sources of food and water.

Diet - Carrion, which they find primarily by smell, but also by sight. Small carcasses are preferred, since their weak claws and bill cannot rip open thick hides of larger animals. These birds will wait for mammalian predators to open a larger carcass, or wait for the meat to decay so they can pull it apart.

Call - Although usually silent, this bird has a number of vocalizations. These range from a short, sharp, chicken-like tschuck..tschuck..tschuck to various whines, growls, and croaks. Turkey Vultures will hiss and rattle when disturbed at a nest site; when vultures are cornered, this hissing warning may be followed by the wonderful defense strategy of vomiting up carrion.

Turkey Vulture Nesting - Turkey Vultures lay their eggs on the ground in dense vegetation, in tree hollows, on rock outcrops, even on cave floors: wherever they can find a dark, protected area away from human disturbance. No nest is constructed, and the isolated sites chosen are widely spaced from other nesting pairs.

Most Common Problems - No longer legally persecuted in the US except at some large roosts as a nuisance, common causes of injury to this species include being hit by cars while feeding on carrion, ingestion of lead from eating animals that have been shot, tangling in wire, gunshot, and electrocution.

  ANCA Member

Cascades Raptor Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization (Federal ID No. 93-1038827) dedicated to wildlife rescue and public education to enhance appreciation, respect, and stewardship of the natural world.


CRC logo art by Jeanne Hammond-Elliott.  Drawings by Barbara Gleason & Karl Edwards.  Photographic sources noted as provided.