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The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

King vultures have a very colorful look that distinguishes them from their vulture relatives. They are predominately white, with black tails and wing tips. They have piercing, often straw-colored eyes and multicolored (yellow, orange, and red) heads and necks.

Though brightly colored, the vulture's head and neck are bald. This may help the fastidious birds to stay clean, and ensure that bacteria-laden animal remains don't fester in the bird's plumage where they could spread disease.

King Vulture is a large, striking bird of undisturbed lowland forests, from southern Mexico south to northern Argentina.  Like other vultures, the King is scavengers and feed on carcasses of many sizes ranging from dead fish, lizards, sloths, and monkeys, up to cattle. 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.

The primary threats to this species are logging of mature forest and habitat conversion for agriculture and livestock production. In addition to threats of habitat loss, this species is threatened by shooting, poaching, trophy hunting, and lead poisoning.


Holste, Melissa, Janet M. Ruth and Jack C. Eitniear.(2014).King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online:

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