Chordates •

King vulture

(Sarcoramphus papa)



The king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is a large bird found in Central and South America.It is a member of the New World vulture family Cathartidae.This vulture lives predominantly in tropical lowland forests stretching from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.It is the only surviving member of the genus Sarcoramphus,although fossil members are known.Excluding the two species of condors,the king vulture is the largest of the New World vultures.Its overall length ranges from 67 to 81 cm (26–32 in) and its wingspan is 1.2 to 2 m (4–7 ft).Its weight ranges from 2.7 to 4.5 kg (6–10 lb).An imposing bird,the adult king vulture has predominantly white plumage,which has a slight rose-yellow tinge to it.In stark contrast,the wing coverts,flight feathers and tail are dark grey to black,as is the prominent thick neck ruff.The head and neck are devoid of feathers,the skin shades of red and purple on the head,vivid orange on the neck and yellow on the throat.On the head,the skin is wrinkled and folded,and there is a highly noticeable irregular golden crest attached on the cere above its orange and black bill;this caruncle does not fully form until the bird’s fourth year.The king vulture has,relative to its size,the largest skull and braincase,and strongest bill of the New World vultures.This bill has a hooked tip and a sharp cutting edge.The bird has broad wings and a short,broad,and square tail.The irises of its eyes are white and bordered by bright red sclera.Unlike some New World vultures,the king vulture lacks eyelashes.It also has gray legs and long,thick claws.The vulture is minimally sexually dimorphic,with no difference in plumage and little in size between males and females.The juvenile vulture has a dark bill and eyes,and a downy,gray neck that soon begins to turn the orange of an adult.Younger vultures are a slate gray overall,and,while they look similar to the adult by the third year,they do not completely molt into adult plumage until they are around five or six years of age.Jack Eitniear of the Center for the Study of Tropical Birds in San Antonio,Texas reviewed the plumage of birds in captivity of various ages and found that ventral feathers were the first to begin turning white from two years of age onwards,followed by wing feathers,until the full adult plumage was achieved.The final immature stages being a scattered black feathers in the otherwise white lesser wing coverts.

Taxonomic tree:

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Aves
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