A large-bodied bird with blackish plumage and a small, red, naked head (juveniles have black heads). The beak is short, hooked and whitish. The legs and feet are pink but often stained white. From below, the wings appear black with the trailing half of the wing gray or silvery. When soaring, turkey vultures hold their wings in a V position (not flattened horizontally). Turkey vultures frequently tilt from side to side as they soar.
Similar species: Black vultures, common in the southeastern United States, are expanding their range northward, and Missouri sightings of them are increasing. Note their black head, shorter tail, and (seen from below) a white patch near the ends of the wings. When they soar, their wings are held nearly horizontal, and they frequently alternate between a series of three to four flaps and soaring.