The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is a large bird of prey, and a raptor.
The King Vulture has white and black feathers, with a grey to black ruff (collar) around its neck. It also has grey flight feathers and grey tail feathers. Its head and neck are bald, with the skin colour varying from yellow, orange, blue, and purple to red. It has a distinctive orange fleshy carbuncle on its hooked reddish beak. It has white eyes with a red eye-ring. It does not have eyelashes. It has grey legs with long grey claws.
It measures about 80 centimetres (31 inches) tall, with a wingspan of 200 centimetres (79 inches). It is the largest species of vulture in the world.
The King Vulture is native to Central America and South America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. It prefers tropical lowland forests.
It is a scavenger and eats the carrion (meat) of a dead animal (carcass). It also eats fish and lizards. Its predators include snakes and large cats, such as the jaguar.
The King Vulture does not have a voice box, and it cannot make a sound, except for a croaking noise.
The King Vulture can soar for a long time, only flapping its wings infrequently. In flight, its wings are flat with slightly raised tips. It does not migrate in cooler weather – it is a residential bird.
It is generally solitary. Sometimes it lives in small family groups of up to 12 individuals. The King Vulture mates for life. It is monogamous. The female lays one white egg in a nest in a hollow of a tree, which hatches after 57 days. Both parents sit on the egg until it hatches.
The baby vulture, called a chick, is born semi-altricial – partially naked (it has soft down feathers), and its eyes are open. Both parents look after the chick for the first week of its life. The chick gains its second coat of down feathers after 10 days.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM