Greater Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes melambrotus

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


  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
eBird range map for Greater Yellow-headed Vulture

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

Distribution in the Americas

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture ranges throughout northern South America east of the Andes, from southern Colombia and southern and northeastern Venezuela east to the Guianas and Amapá, and, south of the Amazon, to southeastern Peru, northern Bolivia, and central and eastern Brazil to western Maranhão. Olrog (1985) suggested that it may occur in northern Argentina, but its presence that far south remains unconfirmed (Mazar Barnett and Pearman 2001), and it remains unreported from southern Bolivia (Herzog et al. 2016) or from Paraguay (Guyra Paraguay 2004).

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture occurs in the lowlands, with an upper elevational range of ca 700 m in Colombia (Hilty and Brown 1986); of ca 500 m in Venezuela (Hilty 2003); primarily below 800 m in Ecuador, but locally up to 1200-1300 m (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001a); to 1100 m in Peru (Walker et al. 2006); and to 600 m in Bolivia (Herzog et al. 2016).

Distribution outside the Americas

Endemic to South America.


Greater Yellow-headed Vulture is almost exclusively restricted to undisturbed primary forest, where they greatly outnumber other vulture species (Graves 1992) and, indeed, may be the most common raptor. In much of their range they appear to show little overlap with other Cathartes species, especially Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus), which is not surprising given the latter’s preference for more open habitats. Only a few records exist of the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture in environments other than mature lowland forest. Thiollay (2007) reports a group of 16 that were observed at a coastal palm swamp in French Guiana, and Griffiths and Bates (2002) report a single voucher specimen taken from a wet grassland near Amapá, Brazil. Olmos et al. (2006) mention Greater Yellow-headed Vultures in Tocantins, Brazil that had adapted to living in fragmented forest near where cattle carcasses were discarded.

Historical changes

Probably none, but little is known about changes to the distribution of Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, since it was confused with Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus) until its recognition as a separate species in 1964 (Wetmore 1964).

Fossil history

No fossils of Greater Yellow-headed Vulture have been reported. The earliest definitive cathartids are known from the early Oligocene, and the genus Cathartes is found in Pleistocene deposits of North America (Brodkorb 1964, Feduccia et al. 1980).

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.