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Discover Nature: Turkey Vultures

Missouri Department of Conservation

Look skyward when traveling along Missouri’s highways and backroads and sooner or later you’ll likely see a large bird that's among the most efficient in flight. This week on Discover Nature we look for the turkey vulture.

As they migrate through the Show-Me State, turkey vultures hold their wings in a V-position tilting from side to side as they soar. Spot turkey vultures near bluffs where they catch rising warm air currents upon which they soar. They are large birds with an up to 27-inch length and a wingspan of up to 70 inches. They sport blackish plumage and a small, red, naked head.

Turkey vultures generally roost in large, bare trees and in colonies across Missouri although they forage individually. Highly specialized carrion feeders, these birds locate their food by smell as well as by sight. They are often attracted to road-killed carcasses. As scavengers, turkey vultures perform a valuable service by cleaning up our woods, grasslands and roadsides. A lack of feathers on their head allows these birds to eat carrion and avoid getting that rotting flesh all over their feathers. Turkey vultures do not kill live animals and don't present any danger to livestock.

Watch for these natural cleaners this spring near bluffs and along roadways where roadkill happens. Before they dine, turkey vultures can be spotted soaring impressively on thermal waves high above ground.

Learn more about Missouri’s nesting and migratory populations of turkey vultures with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online Field Guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Trevor serves as KBIA’s weekday morning host for classical music. He has been involved with local radio since 1990, when he began volunteering as a music and news programmer at KOPN, Columbia's community radio station. Before joining KBIA, Trevor studied social work at Mizzou and earned a masters degree in geography at the University of Alabama. He has worked in community development and in urban and bicycle/pedestrian planning, and recently served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia with his wife, Lisa Groshong. An avid bicycle commuter and jazz fan, Trevor has cycled as far as Colorado and pawed through record bins in three continents.
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