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King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa

  • Order: Cathartiformes
  • Family: Cathartidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Melissa Holste, Janet M. Ruth, and Jack C. Eitniear

King Vulture is a large, striking bird of undisturbed lowland forests, from southern Mexico south to northern Argentina. The body of the adult is largely white, with contrasting black remiges and a blackish neck ruff. The head and neck are bare and covered in protruding skin folds and intricate patterns of purple, orange, and yellow. Young birds are entirely dark, and attain the white plumage and colorful head and neck of adults gradually over the course of their first four years. Like other vultures, the King is a scavenger. It apparently lacks a developed sense of smell, so it must depend on other vultures to lead it to food. Its large size and powerful bill then allow it to dominate at a carcass, ripping into areas that the smaller vultures cannot reach. It nests on the ground or in tree stumps, and lays a single egg per nesting attempt.

Audio needed
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Holste, M., J. M. Ruth, and J. C. Eitniear (2014). King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.