A star of Animalium: the impressive urubu à tête rouge

According to the bird book Atlas des oiseaux nicheurs du Québec, “since the discovery of a nest in Rigaud in 1986 – the very first in Quebec – the urubu à tête rouge has experienced spectacular expansion”. It is now seen throughout southern Quebec, almost everywhere in the United States, in Central America and northern South America.

The bird can be recognized by its long wings; black, brown and silvery plumage; and its scarlet head reminiscent of a turkey. Whence its English name “Turkey vulture” (which doesn’t really have the same ring as “urubu”…). When it soars with a few of its kind above the fields, its wings form an open V, in contrast with the horizontal wing spread of other birds of prey.

This smaller cousin of the condor is essentially a carrion eater. As a result, it plays an indispensable role in improving our environment by cleansing it of the decomposing remains of dead animals.

With its piercing vision and exceptional sense of smell, it identifies its food sources from high in the sky, using rising currents of warm air to remain in flight without much effort. Employing its powerful curved beak, it tears at the flesh of its prey. Its head, free of feathers, remains clean as the bird digs through the bloody entrails.

The turkey vulture builds its nest in dark places: cliff overhangs, hollow tree trunks, crevices in rocks, or animal burrows. It also nests in abandoned forest buildings: old barns, sugar shacks, hunting shelters….

Its spread here has been facilitated by the large number of animals killed on our highways; expansion of the road system; growth of the deer population; and the reduction of contamination by pesticides, whose use affects the reproduction of birds of prey and numerous other animals.

The turkey vulture is one of the many birds of prey you can see for yourself at Animalium, Mont-Tremblant’s zoological museum.


By the same author: The legendary wolverine (Click the image below)


Jacques Prescott83 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.


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