Turkey Vultures Use Turbulence to Soar Longer

By Joe Murgo

Published 04/30 2014 07:16PM

Updated 04/30 2014 07:54PM


What’s that bird soaring overhead? It might just be a turkey vulture. Turkey VultureThanks to certain weather conditions, these birds can soar for long distances. But before we get to what helps them soar, let’s learn a little bit about the turkey vulture.


The turkey vulture is a large, dark bird with a hawklike appearance.  Viewed head-on as they they soar in the sky, the birds take on a V-shape with their wings slightly raised. This is called a dihedral wing. You can catch a glimpse of these birds year-round in the southeastern parts of Pennsylvania and in the the rest of the state during the summer breeding season. Take a look at this dynamic map of turkey vulture sightings from eBird. Bright, sunny mornings are great times to try to spot them soaring high in the sky.


So how do certain weather conditions help turkey vultures fly longer distances? Turkey vultures are obligate soarers, meaning they rely more on soaring for flying, not flapping. When these birds travel long distances, they can’t do it without the aid of thermal convection (rising warm air) and updrafts (vertical movement of air). These movements of air prevent turkey vultures from exerting themselves too much during long-distance flight. Less strain on the bird allows for longer soaring for longer distances.


Have you spotted turkey vultures or other birds where you live? Take a photo and upload it to the Eyes on Central PA Mission on Project Noah. Your photo may be featured on this blog or in Chief Meteorologist Joe Murgo’s next on-air broadcast!

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