Greater Yellow-headed Vulture

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Common Name: Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Scientific Name: Cathartes melambrotus

Size: 25-30 inches (64-75 cm); Wingspan: 65-70 inches (166-178 cm)

Habitat: South America; found in the Amazon Basin of tropical South America; specifically in south-eastern Colombia, southern and eastern Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, northern and western Brazil, northern Bolivia, eastern Peru and eastern Ecuador. It is not found in the Andes, in the lowlands west or north of the Andes, in the relatively open regions of northern South America, eastern South America, or in the southern subtropical regions.

It is common in heavily forested regions. It may wander over grasslands, but rarely strays far from forested areas, which provide shelter and nesting areas.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature adults. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion.

Diet: Wide variety of carrion. Usually last in the Vulture pecking order; it is dependent on larger vultures, such as the King Vulture, to open the hides of larger animal carcasses as its bill is not strong enough to do this.

Nesting: The sexes are outwardly similar. Its plumage is black with a green or purple sheen. The throat and the sides of the head are featherless. The skin on the head ranges in color from deep yellow to pale orange with a blue crown. The nape and the area near the nostrils are pale pinkish. The undersides of the wings are black, while the flight feathers are a lighter shade. The quills of the eleven primary feathers appear to be white when seen from above. The tail is rounded and long for a vulture, extending to or slightly beyond the tip of the closed wing. The head is dull greyish in juveniles, which otherwise resemble adults.

The irises of its eyes are red, its feet are black, and its beak is flesh-colored. The eye has a single incomplete row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower lid. Its beak is thick, rounded, and hooked at the tip. Because of its habit of urohidrosis, the scaly portions of its legs are often streaked white with uric acid. The front toes are long with small webs at their bases and are not adapted to grasping. The opening of the nostril is longitudinal and set in a soft cere, and the nostril lack a septum.

They do not build nests, but rather lay eggs on the ground, cliff ledges, the floors of caves, or in the hollow of a tree. Eggs are cream colored and heavily blotched with brown spots, particularly around the larger end. Two eggs are generally laid. The chicks are blind, naked and relatively immobile upon hatching. The chicks do not grow their down feathers until later. The parents feed their young by regurgitating pre-digested food into their beak, where the chicks then drink it. Young fledge after two to three months.

Cool Facts: Due to confusion with the smaller Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus), the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture was not described as a species until 1964. It differs in appearance from the similar Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture in several ways. It is larger than the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, with a longer, broader tail. The plumage is a dark, glossy black in contrast to the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture's browner plumage. Its legs are darker in color and its head is more yellow and less orange/pink than that of the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. Its wings are broader and its flight is also steadier. Unlike the other members of the genus Cathartes, the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture has relatively dark inner primaries, which contrast slightly with the paler secondaries and outer primaries. The Greater Yellow-headed Vulture prefers to live in forests while the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture prefers to inhabit savannas, and it is more heavily built than the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture.

The Greater Yellow-headed Vulture also has the unusual habit of urohydrosis, in which it urinates or defecates on its legs to cool them evaporatively.

Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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