Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Turkey Vulture


The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), also known in some North American regions as the turkey buzzard (or just buzzard), and in some areas of the Caribbean as the John crow or carrion crow, is the most widespread of the New World vultures. One of three species in the genus Cathartes of the family Cathartidae, the turkey vulture ranges from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrublands, pastures, and deserts.

Distribution And Habitat

The Turkey Vulture occurs throughout most of the Western Hemisphere including the West Indies, where it is common on Cuba, Jamaica, the northern Bahamas, northeastern Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico (Raffaele and others 1998). It was reportedly introduced from Cuba to Puerto Rico in the late 19th century (Santiago-Valentin 1997), and it is now commonly seen in the open country of the southcentral and southwestern regions (Biaggi 1997), especially from Ponce to Cabo Rojo (Oberle 2018). However, it has also been seen in the northwestern region between the municipalities of Moca and Isabela (Lizardi 2003). Census results indicate that its abundance decreases from west to east along the southern coastal plain of the island (Santana and others 1986). This species habitat includes open areas such as grasslands, coasts, pastures, dry forests, farming areas (Oberle 2018), scrublands, towns, and even garbage dumps (Raffaele and others 1998), but it only comes down to rest on trees or cliffsides. In Puerto Rico, Turkey Vultures are most abundant in the subtropical dry forest life zone of the southern region (Santana and others 1986). The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 190 records within 89 hexagons or 19 percent of the 479 total hexagons (see map). Of the 89 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 1 percent (1) of the hexagons, probable in 2 percent (2), and possible in 1 percent (1), while the species was observed in 96 percent (85) of the hexagons but without evidence of breeding (see map). Turkey Vulture distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding. 167Turkey Vulture/Aura Tiñosa

Turkey Vulture Distribution

Breeding Habits

Previously published reports indicate that the Turkey Vulture breeds primarily from February to April, but it may breed throughout the year (Raffaele and others 1998). The nest can be an unmodified rocky ledge, tree stump, cave (Oberle 2018), or a shallow depression on the ground under vegetation (Raffaele and others 1998). Atlas results show that this species breeds during April and May, and that the breeding activity takes place within subtropical dry and subtropical wet forest life zones (see chart). Results show that this species breeds mostly within the subtropical dry forest life zone (75 percent of the hexagons) (see table), but it may also breed at higher elevations within subtropical wet forest life zones (25 percent of the hexagons) (see table and map).


The current population trend of the Turkey Vulture is described as stable, and it is currently listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2018). Locally, this species is not listed in any of the threatened categories of PRDNER and USFWS. In Puerto Rico, the Turkey Vulture has a protected habitat in land of 5 percent or 5 km2 of the total area covered by the hexagons where evidence of breeding was found for this species (96 km2).