Vultures of Illinois (2 Species)

Vultures are large birds of prey that normally have a head or neck that is often devoid of feathers. Due to their habits of feeding on carrion, they have gotten a bad reputation, however their ecological niche is valuable and they are quite interesting birds. There are two different vulture species that can be found in Illinois. One, the Turkey Vulture is common, and can be seen in the spring, summer, and fall. The Black Vulture is more of a southern species, but sometimes they occasionally show up in Illinois.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture (Cape Hatteras National Seashore Photo)
Turkey Vulture in flight (Brad Sutton Photo)

The Turkey Vulture is a large brown bird with a pinkish head that is featherless. In flight, the trailing edge of the wings will show white feathers, with the rest of the underside of the bird being brown. Turkey Vulture will often be seen soaring overhead, or perched on cliffs or other tall structures. They can also be seen near roadsides feeding on carrion.


In North America, Turkey Vultures can be seen in southern states and central America year round. They move into northern states and Southern Canada during the summer. The Turkey Vulture can normally be seen in Illinois during the spring, summer, and fall.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Turkey Vultures feed mostly on dead prey such as roadkill or carrion. It is said that Turkey Vultures will never attack live prey. They serve as a valuable “clean-up crew” in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Turkey Vultures soaring overhead or perching up on high structures such as signs, power lines, cliffs, or tall trees. They will often roost or feed in groups. Also keep an eye out for these birds feeding in open areas or roadsides.

Black Vulture (Rare)

Black Vulture (Dennis Jarvis Photo – CC by 2.0)
Black Vulture in flight (cuatrok77 photo – CC by 2.0)

Black Vultures look similar to turkey vultures except they have an all black head and appear to have white/gray wingtips when viewed from below, as opposed to white on the trailing wing edge, among other features.


The Black Vulture can be found in many southern and southeastern states in the U.S. as well as in Central America. They are often seen as vagrants in more northern states in the U.S.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Much like the Turkey Vulture, Black Vultures will feed on roadkill and carrion, often large mammals. However, unlike the Turkey Vulture, they have also been known to eat weak, or dying live prey.

Where to Find this Bird

Black Vultures can be seen soaring overhead, or perched on powerlines, snags, cliffs, or on other tall structures. They can also sometimes be seen in mixed groups of other raptors such as Turkey Vultures.

Which of these species have you seen? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!

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