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King Vulture

Fact File

Continent: South America
Habitat: Deserts, tropical forests, swamps, grasslands
Weight and length: 3.7kg, 190cm


Diet: Carnivore (Eats Meat)
Gestation: 55 days (incubation)


Conservation Status: LC


  • Beak has a hooked tip and cutting edges which are very
    strong. Have more powerful beaks than many other
    vultures and are able to break through the powerful hides
    of carrion.
  • Each New World vulture has a unique part of the carcass
    that they specialise in eating. King vultures eat the harder
    parts of the tissue from dead animals.
  • Have a poor sense of smell and so find carrion by watching
    for other types of vulture.
  • Have no voice box as with the other vultures in
    Cathartidae family.

King Vulture

Sarcoramphus papa

Animals — Aves (birds) — Falconiformes (diurnal birds of prey) — Cathartidae (New World Vultures and condors)

King Vultures are distinguished from other vultures by their colourful looks. Their feathers are mostly white, with some black, they have very pale blue eyes and their heads and necks can be many colours. These head and neck colours can change depending on mood and include yellow, red, orange, purple and blue. They are the largest new world vulture, excluding the condors.

They may have been named “King” vultures as they often displace smaller vultures at a carcass, and won’t let smaller vultures eat until they have had their full. Another possible cause for this name is Mayan legend that these vultures were kings, and messengers between humans and the gods.

Despite the fact that their population is decreasing due to habitat loss, they do not yet meet the criterion to be called “Vulnerable”, as they cover such a large range and the population isn’t declining fast enough. However, conservation will still be important to stop this population decline.

Habitat: Favour lowland tropics and can be found up to elevations
of 1200m. Habitat ranges from desert and tropical forest
to swamps and grasslands.

Vital Statistics:
–Average weight: 3.7kg
–Average wingspan: 1.9m

Life Expectancy:
In the wild up to: 25 years
In captivity up to: 50+ years

Diet: They are scavengers, feeding mostly on carrion.

Distribution: Found in southern Mexico and throughout Central and South America to northern Argentina, but are restricted to jungle and some dry forests.

Conservation: Our related conservation charity is the APCPP- Association for Protection of Condors and Penguins of Peru. This project is based in north west Peru, where our rangers patrol the beaches to reduce pollution and poaching. We also work on reforesting the landscape, and work in collaboration with scientific research projects in the area. This project also works with fishing companies to ensure they rotate their fishing areas, preventing over-fishing and increasing food sources. Finally, we also supplement vultures with food to increase survival rates.