King Vulture Fact Sheet

Common Name:

King Vulture

Scientific Name:

Sarcoramphus papa

Wild Status:

Least Concern


Tropical Lowland Forests, Grasslands, and Savannas


Wide South American Distribution, and Mexico


Tree Hollows

Life Span:

30 years


2.5 ft and up to 8lbs

Cool Facts:

  • The king vulture eats carrion that they find using their strong sense of smell and their strong eyesight.
  •  King vulture have strong beaks that help them tear through meat; however, they rely on other vultures to tear through the animal hide.
  • They nest close to the ground building nests on tree stumps and hollow logs.
  • Male and females help care for the eggs. They typically lay a single egg.
  • While mid-flight, they will often glide higher than other vultures without flapping their wings.


The king vulture is the third largest New World vulture. It has a brightly covered head and primarily white plumage on its body. The white plumage has a red and yellow tint and covers its back, wings, and underside. The flight feathers, wing coverts, tail, and neck ruff are dark gray or black. The brightness on its head derived from its colorful skin, they lack feathers on the head and neck. The neck it bright orange and transitions to a bright yellow along its neck. The head is a combination of orange and purple but is mostly covered in short and sparse black fur.  The head is wrinkled and has folds. Their sclera is bright reddish-orange and their caruncle is a bright orange-yellow. The caruncle is limited to the top of their beak and is asymmetrical. Their eyes are white with black pupils. The beak is black at the base and orange throughout, with a curved tip.

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves Order: Cathartiformes Family: Cathartidae Genus: Sarcoramphus Species: S. papa

Conservation & Helping:

The king vulture is a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List. They are difficult bird to monitor because of their behavior but it is estimated that there are 10,000-100,000 individuals remaining in the wild with a possibly declining population. The decline in their population is mostly attributed to habitat destruction and poaching. They fall victim to poaching by feeding on poisoned livestock and other poached animals, such as elephants. As carrion feeders, they will swarm poachers' kills and will be poached to not cause attention to the kill.

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