Throughout the summer months, in the skies over northeastern Illinois, all one has to do is look up to see those large, soaring, dark colored birds gently gliding in the summer thermals. The wings of the turkey vultures are slightly, but noticeably, pointing up.
The unmistakable dihedral angle or “v” shape of their wings while in flight are much different from other large birds such as eagles and hawks. Those birds extend their wings straight out and flat from their body when soaring, and appear more like a sailplane.
Even at a distance, a turkey vulture can be quickly ID’d by its shape and flight patterns. It is not uncommon to witness large numbers of turkey vultures perched in an old snag preening and drying their wings in the morning sun. It seems that if one bird spreads its wings to warm up and dry out, the other perched vultures quickly follow suit.
Soon that old tree, full of vultures with wings spread wide, begins to take on the appearance of the partially furrowed sails hanging from the foremast of an 18th century brigantine. The birds, with their wings stretched out, slowly and carefully begin to turn and reposition on those sometimes shaky branches as they continue their warming in the early sun drying the nighttime dew from their damp feathers.
When the time is right and the their feathers are dry and ready for flight, the birds begin to lift off from their roost. They leave, a few at a time, flapping their large wings and climbing upward into a column of the warm rising air to begin their daily search for carrion.
Throughout the day, the vultures are found in fields and along the rural roads and highways where their keen sense of smell and great vision has lead them to their primary food source, road kill. Most of the turkey vultures will start moving south late in the year and spend the winter from far southern Illinois on south.
In recent years though, with milder winters, there are larger numbers remaining throughout the winter months in central Illinois. The turkey vultures are some of the first to arrive in numbers here in northern Illinois in late winter for another nesting season.