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King Vulture
Sarcoramphus papa

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Gypagis papa, Rey Zopilote.

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Sarcoramphus papa
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Distribution: Neotropical. Central MEXICO (Veracruz and Guerrero; formerly to Sinaloa) south through lowlands of Central America and eastern South America to northwestern PERU, northern ARGENTINA, and URUGUAY; absent from wet portion of western COLOMBIA and rare further south west of the Andes. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Formerly placed in the genus Cathartes.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant (Bildstein 2006). Monroe (1968) reported possible migratory behavior by this species in Honduras.

Habitat and Habits: Occurs mostly in lowlands, occasionally at middle elevationsin cleared country, partly forested areas, and occasionally dense forest. It also sometimes perches and feeds inside forest. Generally soars higher than other vulture species and with wings held flat. In French Guiana, it associates with the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, which it follows and dominates at carcasses (Thiollay 2007). It supplants both Black and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures at carcasses in Peru (Robinson 1994). It is dominant over all the smaller vulture species in Brazil, but it will sometimes tolerate their presence at a carcass (Sick 1993). Rarely seen near towns or villages or their associated garbage dumps. Not particularly gregarious, and usually no more than one or two individuals are seen at the same carcass. Sometimes rather tame and approachable when perched (Wetmore 1965). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds strictly on carrion, mostly medium-sized or larger mammals, but also on large fish, snakes, or birds. In captivity, captive King Vultures did not even attack newborn kittens placed openly by their mother in the flight cage (Sick 1993). Locates food only by visual cues (Houston 1984), often keying on the behavior of smaller vulture species and is usually dominant over them at carcasses. more....

Breeding: No nest is built, but a single unmarked, rough-shelled, white egg is laid in the hollow of a tree stump, at the base of a spiny palm, or in a crevice in a cliff. Clutch size is one egg, and the incubation period has been reported as 50-53 days by Cuneo (1968) and 56-58 days by Heck (1963). Both sexes incubate. A chick in Minas Gerais, Brazil left the nest 130 days after hatching (Carvalho Filho et al. 2004). It is probable that this species breeds every two years, based on observations of a single juvenile with a pair of adults near a nest site in the year following breeding (Carvalho Filho op cit.). more....

Conservation: Conservation Dependent overall, but Vulnerable in the northern portions of its range. See Schlee (2000) for a comprehensive review of the distribution and conservation problems of this species. The King Vulture is still common only in undisturbed forest regions in the Amazonian lowlands. It is declining in numbers, or has been extirpated, in most other parts of its former range as a result of habitat loss associated with increasing human populations, shooting, and a decline in its food supply. Márquez Reyes et al. (2000) suggested that the species can survive in areas of cattle ranching, provided that it has access to nearby undisturbed forest for breeding. Schlee (2000) recommended that it be placed on CITES II, but BirdLife International (2007) categorizes this species as "Least Concern" on the assumption (possibly incorrect) that it has not declined more than 30% in 10 years, or in three generations. more....

Important References: 
Antas, P.T.Z., and C.L. da Silveira. 1980. Breeding the King Vulture
  Sarcoramphus papa at Rio de Janeiro Zoo. International Zoo Yearbook
Berlanga, M., and P. Wood. 1992. Observations of the King Vulture
  Sarcoramphus papa in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Campeche, Mexico.
  Vulture News 26:15-21.
Carvalho Filho, E.P.M., G. Zorzin, and G.V.A. Specht. 2004. Breeding
  biology of the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) in southeastern Brazil.
  Ornitologia Neotropical 15:219-224.
Clinton-Eitniear, J. 1993. The King Vulture in Mesoamerica: an uncertain
  future. Pp. 44-47in V Simposium Internacional de Fauna Silvestre, Memoria,
  Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas,
  Ciudad Victoria.
Clinton-Eitniear, J. 1996. Estimating age classes in King Vultures
  (Sarcoramphus papa) using plumage coloration. Journal of Raptor Research
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Houston, D.C. 1984. Does the King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa use a sense of
  smell to locate food? Ibis 126:67-60.
Houston, D.C. 1994. Family Cathartidae (New World vultures). Pp. 24-41 in
  del Hoyo, J, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of
  the world. Vol. 2. New World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions,
  Barcelona, Spain.
Ramo, C., and B. Busto. 1988. Observations at a King Vulture (Sarcoramphus
) nest in Venezuela. Auk 105:195-196.
Schlee, M.A. 1994. Reproductive biology in King Vultures Sarcoramphus papa
  at the Paris Menagerie. International Zoo Yearbook 33:159-175.
Schlee, M.A. 1995. Nest records for the King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa in
  Venezuela. Journal of Raptor Research 29:269-272.
Schlee, M.A. 2000. Posthumous presentation of Carl B. Koford's manuscript
  on a nesting of the King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa on Barro Colorado Island.
  Vulture News 43:23-29.
Schlee, M.A. 2000. The status of vultures in Latin America. Pp. 191-206 in
  International Zoo Yearbook 33:159-175.
Smith, N.G. 1970. Nesting of King Vulture and Black Hawk-eagle in Panama.
  Condor 72:247-248.

Sites of Interest:
King Vulture photos.
Aves de Rapina do Brasil
Species account with emphasis on Brazil.

Beaumont, John
Bhusal, Krishna
Calmé, Sophie
Carvalho Filho, Eduardo Pio Mendes
Eitniear, Jack Clinton
Lambertucci, Sergio
Martinez-Fernandez, Alberto
Phillips, Ryan
Santos, Kassius Klay
West, Jane
Zorzin, Giancarlo

Last modified: 5/8/2014

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 27 Jan. 2022

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