Ruby the Turkey Vulture
UPDATE JANUARY 2023: Ruby the Turkey Vulture, along with Aristophanes the Raven, moved to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma Washington on 1/2/23. As we invest in the search and design for our new Wildlife Care Center and rebuild our Ambassador Animal program after the impacts of COVID, we felt it was in the best interests of these complex birds to move to a facility with greater resources and tailor-made enrichment opportunities. Read more about this difficult decision here.
- Hatched: Spring of 2007
- Arrived at Portland Audubon: September 2007
- Sex: Female
In 2007, a woman called the Wildlife Care Center to report that a friendly Turkey Vulture was hanging around her property near McMinnville, Oregon. It had flown down to the ground and thrown an acorn at someone’s feet, slept on the woman’s porch, followed her around and into her barn, and jumped onto her arm.
Care Center staff made numerous calls to find out where Ruby had come from, but could not find a history. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit department and Care Center staff determined that Ruby had probably been illegally taken from the wild as a baby and imprinted onto humans. As a result, Ruby cannot be returned to the wild, where she would most likely fall prey to predators, be hurt by humans, or be taken in illegally as a pet.
About Turkey Vultures
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
The species’ common name “Turkey Vulture” comes from the similarity of its head coloring to that of turkeys. Also known as the “Turkey Buzzard,” it is believed to have evolved independently of turkeys and is instead related to storks and cormorants.
Turkey Vultures are listed as a species of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Although they are numerous, Turkey Vultures have been persecuted in the past. Cattle ranchers once believed that vultures carried diseases that could spread to cattle. The truth is vultures have the opposite effect and are useful in removing sources of infection.
- Habitat & Range: The territory of a single Turkey Vulture fluctuates with both the availability of carrion and their migratory tendencies. Habitat is extremely diversified and the birds travel to wherever scavenging is plentiful.
- Songs & Calls: Called a “voiceless bird,” Turkey Vultures are actually able to produce several sounds. They can emit a subdued grunt, and a hiss or snarl is uttered when expressing a right to a carcass.
- Turkey Vultures have the tendency to defecate directly on their feet. Biologists believe this is done to cool their feet and kill bacteria.
- Turkey Vultures have been helpful in identifying gas leaks, as pipes are often located across miles of unpopulated land. When a leak occurs, Turkey Vultures are attracted by the smell and will circle overhead, which alerts humans to the problem.
- Size & Shape: 29-32″, wingspan 68-72″. Large birds with long, broad wings.
- Expected lifespan: 15-20 years in wild; 20-25 in captivity.
- Color: Dark brown plumage with a blue, purple or green iridescence. Outer feathers are fringed with medium-olive gray coloring, while underparts are generally a brown-olive shade. The bird’s head and neck are bristled sparsely and bright red in color. The relatively large beak is white and the bird’s sharp eyes are a dull yellow.
- Behavior: Turkey Vultures effortlessly soar for hours at amazing heights, navigating rising thermals and air currents in ever widening spirals. However, if they can be called majestic in flight, then they are uncouth and gangly on land.
- Diet: Turkey Vultures are true scavengers and prefer to eat well-rotted carrion. These animals very rarely kill prey themselves, but have been known to catch small mammals like mice and eat grasshoppers, fish and even rotting pumpkins.