The Turkey Vulture received its common name from the resemblance of the adult’s bald red head and its dark plumage to that of the male wild turkey, while the name “vulture” is derived from the Latin word vulturus, meaning “tearer”, and is a reference to its feeding habits.The word buzzard is used by North Americans to refer to this bird, yet in the Old World that term refers to members of the genus Buteo. The turkey vulture was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus as Vultur aura in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae, and characterised as “V. fuscogriseus, remigibus nigris, rostro albo” (“brown-gray vulture, with black wing flight feathers and a white beak”). It is a member of the family Cathartidae, along with the other six species of New World vultures, and included in the genus Cathartes, along with the greater yellow-headed vulture and the lesser yellow-headed vulture. Like other New World vultures, the turkey vulture has a diploid chromosome number of 80.
The Black Vulture is a scavenger and feeds on carrion, but will also eat eggs or kill newborn animals (livestock such as cattle). In areas populated by humans, it also feeds at garbage dumps. It finds its meals either by using its keen eyesight or by following other (New World) vultures, which possess a keen sense of smell. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. It lays its eggs in caves or hollow trees or on the bare ground, and generally raises two chicks each year, which it feeds by regurgitation. In the United States, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This vulture also appeared in Mayan codices.