NEW WORLD VULTURES FACTS
The vultures living in the New World, North and South America, generally have dark black, brown, and gray feathers. However condors and king vultures also have some white feathers. The color of the skin on the birds’ bare heads and necks are combinations of gray, red, blue, and yellow. The birds weigh between 2.1 pounds and 33 pounds (0.94 and 15 kilograms). The length of the birds in this family ranges from 23 to 53 inches (58 to 134 centimeters) from their beaks to the end of their tails.
Until recently, New World vultures were grouped with hawks as birds of prey. But scientists have found that these vultures are more similar to storks than they are to hawks. For example, their feet are weak like storks, and they do not have the strong, grasping claws that hawks use to catch live animals.
New World vultures range from southern Canada to the southern tip of South America. The turkey vulture and the black vulture are the two most common vultures in North and South America, and they are sometimes called buzzards.
NEW WORLD VULTURES HABITAT
These birds can live in almost any habitat, from seashores to deserts to forests, as long as they can find carrion, dead and decaying animals, to eat. All vultures hunt by soaring high and looking down for food. However turkey vultures and yellow-headed vultures have an especially good sense of smell and can sniff out small, dead animals in dense forests without having to see them first.
NEW WORLD VULTURES DIET
New World vultures are scavengers, eating carrion rather than killing their own food. They wait for other animals, or cars, to kill their food. They also eat animals that die from disease or old age. They usually find their food while soaring high in the air. If they see other vultures flying down or eating on the ground, they try to join them. The biggest birds, the condors and king vultures, can tear apart the hides of large mammals. But most of these vultures get at the meat through natural openings, such as the mouths and eyes. Or, if an animal has been killed by a wolf or other predator, they may watch and wait until the predator leaves and then take their turn.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Before flying in the morning, New World vultures usually find a sunny spot where they can spread their wings. The sunshine warms their bodies and helps to straighten their flight feathers. They wait until the winds pick up before taking off. They roost together at night and they hunt for food in flocks, but at breeding time they spread out and nest by themselves.
New World vultures usually mate or life. As part of their courtship display, a pair flies high over the nesting area with wingtips almost touching. This may tell neighboring pairs to stay away. Female vultures lay their eggs directly on the ground in the floor of a cave or in a tree hole. The condors and king vultures lay only one egg and other vultures usually lay two. The parents take turn sitting on the eggs and feeding the chicks. Young condors learn to fly at about six months, and the smaller vultures learn by the time they are three months.
NEW WORLD VULTURES AND PEOPLE
New World vultures have been important in the myths and legends of people for thousands of years. In South America, pictures of Andean condors have been found on ancient pottery, carvings, and cloth. In North America, vultures were thought of as symbols of death. Many people are fascinated by vultures and like to watch them in action.
California condors are listed as Critically Endangered, which means they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Andean condors are considered Near Threatened, meaning they are close to becoming endangered. Not all vultures are in trouble. In fact, turkey vultures have been spreading northward into Canada for the last thirty years.