Scavenger Animals in the Desert

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Turkey vultures are associated with scavenging from dead animals.
Turkey vultures are associated with scavenging from dead animals. (Image: Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

In the U.S. deserts, such as the Mojave and Sonoran, life is hard and many animals fall prey to dehydration, heat or predators. Even when the animal dies of predation, some of the carcass can be left over, and this is when scavengers move in. The deserts are home to a number of animals that survive by scavenging from these bodies.

Coyotes

The coyote, found extensively throughout the United States, much of Canada and Mexico, is a small cousin of the wolf. Measuring up to 4.4 feet nose to tail and weighing between 20 and 50 pounds, they are predators. They hunt for small mammals, birds and reptiles, and sometimes deer when in a pack. A large part of the coyote's diet in desert regions comes from larger animals that it can scavenge. Solitary animals are more likely to scavenge than those in a pack.

Ravens

The raven is found all along the West Coast of America, from Mexico to Alaska. It is a large, black bird about 26 inches tall and weighing up to 2 pounds. Ravens are prolific scavengers and take advantage of just about any food source available. The Great Basin, Mojave and Sonoran deserts are all within the raven's range. These birds are not just scavengers; they are also adept at hunting. Solitary ravens bring down small rodents and seabirds, while a flock works together to kill larger game.

Turkey Vulture

Vultures circling is an iconic sign of impending death in the movies, and this is because they are a scavenger bird. The turkey vulture is found throughout most of North America, and it is common in desert landscapes. The birds reach heights of up to 32 inches and a wingspan of 6 feet. Using a keen sense of smell, the vulture senses a dead body from a long distance away and obtains much of its food and water from scavenging. The species has a well adapted digestive system and kidneys that help it deal with rotted food and conserve water.

Golden Eagle

The golden eagle is North America's largest bird of prey, up to 15 pounds and with a wingspan of more than 7 feet. It is found all along the West Coast from northern Mexico to Alaska. This bird can be found in most habitats, including forests, mountainous regions and deserts. Golden eagles are proficient hunters, using a speedy dive-bomb style of attack to catch prey such as marmots, rabbits and even occasionally small deer. This does not mean they are above scavenging; the eagle will happily take the easy option of feeding on a carcass.

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