Photo by Abhishek Kambhampati

New World Vultures

New World vultures are a group of raptor-like birds in the family Cathartidae, which contains seven species in five genera. Of the five species found throughout the Americas, three are commonly found in North America and include the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), and Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus). New world vultures are technically unrelated to old world vultures; similarities between the two groups are a result of convergent evolution. New world vultures were originally placed in Falconiformes, the taxonomic order that includes hawks, eagles, and falcons. However, it wasn't until relatively recently that new world vultures were found to be more closely related to storks than raptors.

Turkey Vultures, commonly found in Wyoming, are large birds with predominantly black or brown plumage and long broad wings. All vulture species have a featherless head and neck, which prevents bacteria from damaging feathers and exposes skin to the sterilizing effects of the sun. Vulture beaks are slightly hooked and are relatively weak when compared to the beaks of true birds of prey. Vulture eyes tend to be prominent and unlike raptors, they are not protected by a bony brow. Vulture feet superficially resemble raptorial feet, but are significantly weaker than those of true birds of prey and do not serve the same purpose. Vultures are scavengers and feed mainly on "carrion," which is another word for deceased prey.

Turkey Vulture

Photo by TRC Staff

Photo by TRC Staff

California Condor

Photo by KVAL

Photo by KVAL

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