American vultures have no syrinx and are thus voiceless, emitting weak hisses. They feed voraciously and indiscriminately, chiefly on carrion. Because they have weak beaks and lack the strength of other birds of prey, they rarely attack other than helpless animals. Most vultures have dark plumage and small, naked heads. In the adult turkey vulture, or turkey buzzard,
Vultures have keen sight and are effortless soarers, skillful at riding the thermal updrafts of their mountain habitats. They are normally solitary but will gather in crowds to feed. As valuable scavengers they are protected by law. A vulture of the Pleistocene epoch was the largest bird that ever existed, with a wingspread of 16 to 17 ft (4.9–5.1 m).
Vultures are frequently called buzzards, although the name is more correctly applied to hawks of the genus
See study by T. van Dooren (2011).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology