Header that says "Vultures" with an image of a turkey vulture

Two species of vultures are found in Pennsylvania: the black vulture and the turkey vulture. They are often mislabeled as buzzards, which is an old world (Europe and Asia) term for hawks of the Buteo family. Vultures are carrion-feeding raptors.

Turkey Vultures

AppearanceTurkey vultures are large birds with blackish-brown feathers and pink heads and necks. Their heads and necks are featherless and they have sharp talons and bills—all of these features help with digging through carrion.
LengthAround 30 inches, with wingspans up to 6 feet
HabitatCaves, steep cliffs, hollow stumps and logs, and dense thickets
FoodCarrion (dead animals) found in fields, woods and along highways
Location in PennsylvaniaStatewide
Extra factsTurkey vultures are the main scavenger bird in the United States.
They have strong senses of smell and vision.
Turkey vultures have no voicebox and can only make hissing and grunting sounds.
Both parents share in incubating their young.

Black Vultures

AppearanceBlack vultures have short tails and white patches on the underside of their wings. They are bald like turkey vultures, but their heads are black instead of red.
LengthAround 24 inches, with a wingspan less than 5 feet
HabitatSimilar to turkey vulture
FoodSimilar to turkey vulture
Location in PennsylvaniaStatewide
Extra factsWhile turkey vultures use their sense of smell to locate food, black vultures rely more heavily on a keen sense of eyesight to find their food.


Both vulture species are known for roosting on houses, buildings and high tension towers, sometimes in great numbers. This collection of birds will account for a great amount of white fecal waste building up on roofs and yards.


Both vulture species are federally protected and as such cannot be lethally removed without a federal permit issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Licensed Wildlife Control Agents can use non-lethal methods to harass and deter the vultures. The use of water hoses, loud noises and lasers can sometimes chase the birds away. In addition, the birds are sometimes deterred with the use of “effigies” or stuffed dead vultures or decoys.

Photo of a black vulture perched on the top of a metal fence
A black vulture

For more information about vultures, check out the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife notes.