About the only thing pretty on these guys are their wings.
WHAT IS A VULTURE?
Vultures are large, carrion-eating birds. For years, it was believed that all vultures were raptors, members of the order Falconiformes. In 1994, however, it was discovered that the vultures inhabiting the American continents share a common ancestor with storks and ibises. Now, American vultures, or New World vultures, are recognized as Ciconiiformes, in the family Cathartidae. European, African, and Asian vultures are recognized as Old World vultures (family Accipitridae, subfamily Aegypiinae). There are 15 species of Old World Vultures and 7 Species of New World Vultures.
The Turkey Vultures Sense of Smell:
The turkey vulture is one of the only birds in North America with a sense of smell. This vulture relies both on its keen eyesight and powerful nose to search out food.
Contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a dead animal. Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for long flights, searching for food, or playing.
These birds soar on thermals of warm, rising air. This allows them to best conserve their energy in flight. After rising on the thermal, they glide as far as possible before they need to gain altitude again. They also rely on thermals of warm air to remain aloft while scanning the ground for food.
You will certainly see vultures in the air over a carcass, but in the case of small carcasses, the descent is rapid. As for larger carcasses, while remaining on the lookout for food, vultures are equally attuned to their fellow vultures. They note when others’ behavior indicates the discovery of a food source, and will flock to the area. Often, the entire group will remain aloft until sufficient birds have arrived to dispose of the carcass in a timely fashion.
Please note, however, that American vultures are not known to circle a dying animal.