Magnificent Turkey Vultures on Cape Cod

A magnificent Turkey Vulture flying over Pocasset, Massachusetts. The Turkey Vulture's head has no feathers because it eats carrion, which is teeming with bacteria. Feathers would become encrusted with it's food (and the bacteria), but his bald head stays relatively clean, and the residue soon gets baked away in the sun.

 Turkey Vultures are enormous birds, with a six foot wingspan. They are also one of the most graceful birds in the world when in flight. They soar for hours without ever flapping their wings. They huge, board-like wings can be confused with a American Eagle when seen in silhouette, but the Turkey Vulture's wings are held in a "V-shape," or dihedral.

The Turkey Vulture can glide for over 6 hours at a time without flapping a wing, but they are not at all graceful when taking off from the ground. These large birds require a lot of energy and a lot of vigorous wing flapping to get off the ground.

Many people incorrectly call these birds "buzzards", and fear them or think they are dirty and spread diseases because they eat dead meat. In reality, the Turkey Vulture prevents the spread of disease by cleaning up carcasses that would normally breed masses of dangerous pathogens.

The Turkey Vulture is so named because it's head looks the the head of a turkey. This magnificent bird was not present in Massachusetts 100 years ago. Today, this bird can be seen anywhere in the state. It only recently moved onto the cape, where it has been confirmed as breeding according to the Mass Breeding Bird Atlas 2.


  1. Nice pics, Susan. I remember when I saw the first Turkey Vulturs in VT. They weren't very common back then, not like today. I actually thought it was an eagle. I saw an Andean Vulture in an exhibit clean his head by wiping it back and forth on the grass - to it's an all around practical attribute for the work they are doing.

  2. The first time I saw one in the air I thought it was an eagle, too! I still have to double check at times. I think they're really cool - and a lot more attractive than some turkeys I've seen!

  3. I did my senior thesis at Cal State Fullerton on these birds. I had to give an hour talk as part of the work. I gave that at the class party in Carbon Canyon at Dr. Bayard Brattstrom‘s home near Brea, California. I learned to love these birds very much. They also taught me loads about aerodynamics.

  4. My wife pointed out three of theses in my neighbor's backyard In West Dennis on Cape Cod last week. We had no idea what they were but couldn't believe their size when they flew off the tree branch they were on and circled over head. Amazing birds!

    1. I agree! Believe it or not, they are one of my favorites!

  5. Wow been on the cape for over 55 years and I just was my first Turkey Vulture....pretty awesome!!


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