King Vulture

King Vulture

Details About The King Vulture

  • General Information

    Large and predominantly white, the King Vulture has gray to black ruff, flight, and tail feathers. The head and neck are bald, with the skin color varying, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red. The King Vulture has a very noticeable yellow fleshy caruncle on its beak. King Vultures were popular figures in the Mayan codices as well as in local folklore and medicine. Although currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, they are decreasing in number, due primarily to habitat loss. It is the only surviving member of the genus Sarcoramphus, although fossil members are known.

    Latin Name: Sarcoramphus papa
    Class: Aves
    Order: Accipitriformes
    Family: Cathartidae
    Length: 27-32 inches
    Weight: 6-10 pounds
    Wingspan: 48-84 inches
    Common Name: n/a
    Etymology: sarcoramphus – The generic name is a New Latin compound formed from the Greek words sarx, "flesh,” and  rhamphos, "crooked beak of bird of prey"; papa (Latin)  “bishop,” refers to the birds plumage resembling a bishop’s cloth

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The King Vulture soars for hours effortlessly, only flapping its wings infrequently. While in flight, its wings are held flat with slightly raised tips, and from a distance the vulture can appear to be headless while in flight. Its wing beats are deep and strong. Birds have been observed engaging in tandem flight on two occasions in Venezuela.

    The King Vulture lacks a voice box, although it can make low croaking noises and wheezing sounds in courtship, and bill-snapping noises when threatened.

    The King Vulture primarily inhabits undisturbed tropical lowland forests as well as savannas and grasslands with these forests nearby. It is often seen near swamps or marshy places in the forests.

  • Nesting

    King Vultures mate for life and generally lay a single unmarked white egg in its nest in a hollow in a tree. To ward off potential predators, the vultures keep their nests foul-smelling. Both parents incubate the egg for the 52 to 58 days before it hatches. If the egg is lost, it will often be replaced after about six weeks.

  • Distribution

    This vulture lives predominantly in tropical lowland forests stretching from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, though some believe that William Bartram's Painted Vulture of Florida may be of this species. The King Vulture inhabits an estimated 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles) between southern Mexico and northern Argentina. In South America, it does not live west of the Andes, except in western Ecuador, north-western Colombia and far north-western Venezuela. King Vultures generally do not live above 1500 m (5,000 ft), although they are found in places at 2,500 m (8,000 ft) altitude east of the Andes, and have been rarely recorded up to 3,300 m (10,000 ft) They inhabit the emergent forest level, or above the canopy.

  • Food

    This vulture is a scavenger and it often makes the initial cut into a fresh carcass. It also displaces smaller New World vulture species from a carcass. However, when it is at the same kill as the larger Andean Condor, the King Vulture always defers to it. The King Vulture eats anything from cattle carcasses to beached fish and dead lizards. In forests, it is likely to eat sloth. Principally a carrion eater, there are isolated reports of it eating injured animals, newborn calves and small lizards. Although it locates food by vision, the role smell has in how it specifically finds carrion has been debated. Consensus has been that it does not detect odors, and instead follows.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    When the King Vulture sees that other scavenger birds have discovered a meal, they shoot down from the sky and push the others out of the way. All of the vulture species are quick to move aside for the "king." King of the Jungle!

    The King Vulture is one of the most common species of birds represented in the Mayan codices. Its glyph is easily distinguishable by the knob on the bird’s beak and by the concentric circles that make up the bird’s eyes.