King Vulture

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Common Name: King Vulture
Scientific Name: Sarcoramphus papa

Size: 27-32 inches (67-81 cm); Wingspan: 48-80 inches (120-200 cm) Habitat: Central and South America; The King Vulture inhabits an estimated 14 million km2 (5.4 million mi2) between southern Mexico and northern Argentina. In South America, it does not live west of the Andes, except in western Ecuador, north-western Colombia and far north-western Venezuela.

It primarily inhabits undisturbed tropical lowland forests as well as savannas and grasslands with these forests nearby. It is often seen near swamps or marshy places in the forests. King Vultures generally do not live above 1500 m (5000 ft), although are found in places at 2500 m (8000 ft) altitude east of the Andes, and have been rarely recorded up to 3300 m (10000 ft).

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 670-6700 mature individuals. 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. King Vultures, which lack the ability to smell carrion, follow the Greater Yellow-headed Vultures to carcasses, where the King Vulture tears open the skin of the dead animal. This allows the smaller Greater Yellow-headed Vulture access to food, as it does not have a bill strong enough to tear the hide of larger animals. This is an example of mutual dependence between species. It is generally displaced from carcasses by both Turkey Vultures and King Vultures, due to their larger size.

Nesting: Its body is largely white, with contrasting black remiges and a blackish neck ruff. The head and neck are bare and covered in protruding skin folds and intricate patterns of purple, orange, and yellow. Young birds are entirely dark, and attain the white plumage and colorful head and neck of adults gradually over the course of their first four years.

The reproductive behavior of the King Vulture in the wild is poorly studied, and much knowledge has been gained from observing birds in captivity. An adult King Vulture sexually matures when it is about four or five years old, with females maturing slightly earlier than males. The birds mainly breed during the dry season and mate for life.

The female generally lay a single unmarked white egg in its nest in a hollow in a tree. To ward off potential predators, the vultures keep their nests foul-smelling. Both parents incubate the egg for the 52 to 58 days before it hatches. If the egg is lost, it will often be replaced after about six weeks. The parents share incubating and brooding duties until the chick is about a week old, after which they often stand guard rather than brood. The young are semi-altricial—they are helpless when born but are covered in downy feathers and their eyes are open at birth. Developing quickly, the chicks are fully alert by their second day, and able to beg and wriggle around the nest, and preen themselves and peck by their third day. They start growing their second coat of white down by day 10, and stand on their toes by day 20. From one to three months of age, chicks walk around and explore the vicinity of the nest, and take their first flights at about three months of age.

Cool Facts: It is the only surviving member of the genus Sarcoramphus, although fossil members are known. The Kern Vulture (Sarcoramphus kernense), lived in southwestern North America during the mid-Pliocene (Piacenzian), some 3.5–2.5 million years ago). It was a little-known component of the Blancan/Delmontian faunal stages.

There are two theories on how the King Vulture earned the "King" part of its common name. The first is that the name is a reference to its habit of displacing smaller vultures from a carcass and eating its fill while they wait. An alternative theory reports that the name is derived from Mayan legends, in which the bird was a king who served as a messenger between humans and the gods. This bird was also known as the "White Crow" by the Spanish in Paraguay. It was called cozcacuauhtli in Nahuatl, derived from cozcatl "collar" and cuauhtli "bird of prey”.

The King Vulture is one of the most common species of birds represented in the Mayan codices. Its glyph is easily distinguishable by the knob on the bird’s beak and by the concentric circles that make up the bird’s eyes. Sometimes the bird is portrayed as a god with a human body and a bird head. According to Mayan mythology, this god often carried messages between humans and the other gods. It is also used to represent Cozcaquauhtli, the thirteenth day of the month in the Mayan calendar (13 Reed).

Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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