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Greater Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes melambrotus

  • Order: Cathartiformes
  • Family: Cathartidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Matthew F. Jones



Greater Yellow-headed Vulture is a common scavenger of large tracts of undisturbed primary forests in northern and central South America. It forages by flying just above the canopy while using its well-developed sense of smell to locate carrion, and may play an important role in leading the sympatric Black (Coragyps atratus) and King (Sarcoramphus papa) vultures to carcasses.


Cathartid vultures are difficult to census (Thiollay 1989b, Robinson 1994), and there are no data on territoriality or home range size for this species. Two independent surveys, one from southeastern Peru and one from French Guiana, both estimated a density of 0.25 pairs per 100 ha (Terborgh et al. 1990, Thiollay 1994).

Sexual Behavior

Undescribed. Greater Yellow-headed Vulture presumably is at least socially monogamous.

Social and interspecific behavior

Greater Yellow-headed Vultures are often the first scavengers to arrive at a carcass (Gomez et al. 1994, Houston 1994a, Mallon et al. 2013). Greater Yellow-headed Vulture is subordinate to King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) at a carcass (Gomez et al. 1994, Robinson 1994, Thiollay 2007), and also is dominated by Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) (Gomez et al. 1994). MarĂ­n et al. (1992) and Robinson (1994) reported that Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) also dominates Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, but Gomez et al. (1994) describe Black Vulture as the last species to feed at a carcass, suggesting that it is subordinate to all larger species, including Greater Yellow-headed.

Typically, only a single Greater Yellow-headed Vulture feeds on a carcass at a time (Gomez et al. 1994).


None reported, and probably rare for adult vultures. Young may be vulnerable to terrestrial predators before fledging. The preference for undisturbed forest habitats likely decreases the chances of human-related casualties.

Recommended Citation

Jones, M. F. (2017). Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.