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Birds of Prey Animal Fact Sheet
KING VULTURE
Sarcoramphus papa

Range:
Common year round in the south but does not go too far north, also found in South America Males and females are identical (no sexual dimorphism) and nearly the same size.

The juvenile chick's plumage is brown. It leaves the nest area at about one year old, and begins acquiring adult plumage at 18 months. King Vultures have been observed watching and then following other kinds of vultures in to a carcass. Only turkey vultures and lesser and greater yellow-headed vultures have a good sense of smell. The black and king vultures and the condors lack carcass-smelling ability completely. King vultures will soar high above the turkey vultures and yellow-heads, which stay generally near the tree canopy level. The circling and casting back and forth of the carrion sniffers signal a detected carcass, and they begin their descent. These larger vultures will take over the carcass for a while, which actually works out very well. The king vulture is often the only one large and powerful enough to rip open the tough hide of the carcass, allowing entry to the "good stuff" inside. It takes its fill and then vacates, making way for the others.

Black vultures gorge on chunks of muscle and viscera while turkeys and yellow-heads are slower and more deliberate, taking the last scrap of muscle, tendon, and fascia off of the bones.

Hisses and grunts as its song. Head is bald to keep them clean and prevent disease, they eat the insides of carrion first and feathers would make it all get stuck on their head!

Self-defense is to projectile vomit on anything seen as a threat. Except for condors, the king vulture is the largest New World Vulture with a 4-5.5 foot wingspan and height of 32 inches. They are basically a creamy white bird, the flight feathers and tail are black, the ruff is black and the feet are gray. The bare face and neck skin are flushed with yellow rose, and orange, accented with black and gray. The distinctive, prominent wattle is orange and red. Adult eyes are straw color.

They poop down their legs to cool off (poop evaporates as it hits the air thus lowering body temp) as well as to kill off bacteria (stomach acids are strong for eating rotten meat so feces is quite acidic too). This is why their legs are white.
Habitat: Found from S. Mexico to S. Argentina living in the tropical lowlands up to 4000`. At one time these birds were found in Florida, however, they went through a natural extinction and headed further south.
Diet: Carrion, located by watching other vultures; may take sick/dying animals
Status: Least Concern (IUCN)
Approximate Dimensions of Adult: Adults can have a wingspan of up to 5.5 feet in width in the U.S.
Lifespan: Up to 30 years in captivity.
Reproduction & Offspring: Usually only one egg is laid and both parents incubate.

 

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