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This straight-forward plate from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors reveals the identifying features of turkey vultures found in Western North America.
Occurs in any habitat, but favors woodland and cliffs for nesting. Highly aerial and social, soars in large “kettles,” rising and spinning tornado-like on the horizon, and gathers in numbers at kills, during migration, and at roosts. Eats primarily carrion detected mainly by smell. Frequently scavenges along roadsides, attending roadkills with Black Vulture and Crested Caracara. Tears prey with powerful bill, but has relatively weak feet, unlike stronger talons of raptors. The “Turkey Buzzard” leaves its prey reluctantly and rarely retreats far. Often perches on dead snags, radio towers, and utility poles, and frequently holds wings outstretched to help condition flight feathers and increase body temperature (lowering it at night to conserve energy).
Partly migratory, mostly retracts from the northern parts of range in winter, especially the Great Basin and northern Great Plains, but has been found in recent years with increasing regularity farther north than usual. Eastern birds average slightly larger and usually have more prominent “tubercules” (colorful, wartlike protuberances near the eyes) on the face than Western birds, but some birds appear intermediate.