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Rainforests of the World 

June 9, 2010

What rainforest animal cools off through urohydrosis?

If you guessed Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), you’re absolutely right!

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

If you are a frequent visitor to our rainforest you might be thinking “I’ve never seen a vulture in there.” You’re right again! Our vulture lives out in the West Garden adjacent to the building. However, turkey vultures range from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. They inhabit a huge diversity of habitats, including tropical rainforests.

They are scavengers that feed almost exclusively on carrion and are one of the few birds that have a developed sense of smell. In fact, that excellent sense of smell allows them to utilize rainforest habitat, as they have an alternative to searching for food by sight only. Other neotropical vulture species that don’t have that developed sense of smell will observe turkey vultures and follow them to food sources.

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Turkey vultures have a unique defense mechanism – they will regurgitate their meal in an effort to startle a predator and quickly reduce their body weight so that they can fly away faster. Turkey vultures also have an interesting way of keeping cool during hot days – they urinate on their feet! This is called ‘urohydrosis’, and causes the white coloration seen on their legs.

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

You can see the Academy’s turkey vulture on exhibit in the West Garden daily between 10:00 am and 2:30 pm and meet the biologists that care for him Tue-Thurs at 2pm. Here is a picture of him preening his feathers to look his very best for your next visit:

turkey vulture

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 2:54 pm


  1. Turkey vulture story was informative and very entertaining! I will view them with much more respect!

    Comment by irene — July 1, 2010 @ 6:44 am

  2. I’ve never seen such cute pictures of a vulture! And thanks for the cooling tip — I may try that during our next heat wave.

    Comment by Anthony — July 1, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  3. Thanks for the info about this beautiful bird.

    Do mammals with lesser senses of smell ever follow them to food sources?

    Comment by Kathleen — July 1, 2010 @ 9:24 am

  4. Very interesting to learn about these things. Nice to have the various questions. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Comment by Fred Beidatsch — July 2, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Kathleen, great question! I didn’t know the answer, so I asked one of our amazing research staff. Here’s what she says,

    “I do not know off the top of my head of any wild mammals that follow Turkey Vultures. I do know that marine mammal researchers like myself do get clues from the birds. When I am out on the beach searching for a carcass I definitely look for the Turkey Vultures and gulls.”

    So it looks like people are one mammal species that follow turkey vultures. Hope that helps!

    Comment by rainforest — July 7, 2010 @ 11:35 am

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