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Greater Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes melambrotus

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

Diet and Foraging


Greater Yellow-headed Vulture feeds on carrion, including mammals, birds, and fish. Unlike syntopic Black (Coragyps atratus) and King (Sacroramphus papa) vultures, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture consumes carcasses smaller than 5 kg (Gomez et al, 1994); Graves (1992) flushed one Greater Yellow-headed Vulture from the carcass of a tree rat (Echimys chrysurus), a species with a mass of ca 400-900 g. The diet has not been described in much detail, and probably is quite varied; identified or presumed food items are sloths, monkeys, opossums, birds, and fish (Houston 1985, Hero et al. 1994, Houston 1994a, Robinson 1994), including carcasses of animals that apparently were shot but not recovered by hunters (Thiollay, in Hero et al. 1994), and even on carcasses of conspecifics (Thiollay 2007). Greater Yellow-headed Vulture also forages on roadkill, including carcasses of snakes, armadillos, dogs, foxes, and cattle (MarĂ­n et al. 1992, Olmos et al. 2006). It likely accounts for the greatest amount of carrion consumed by scavengers in its range (Gomez et al., 1994).

Foraging Behavior

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture typically flies low over the forest canopy when foraging, at a height of less than 100 m (Robinson, 1994), using the updrafts created next to emergent trees to stay aloft (Houston, 1994b). Like other species of Cathartes, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture locates food by olfaction (Graves 1992, Hero et al. 1992, Gomez et al. 1994, Houston 1994a).

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.