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King Vulture

King Vulture
Photo Information
Copyright: Peter van Zoest (PeterZ) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5137 W: 166 N: 13121] (49139)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2010-07-14
Categories: Birds
Camera: Nikon D300, AF Nikkor 70-300mm f4-5.6 G, Digital JPEG
Exposure: f/5.6, 1/125 seconds
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Theme(s): A painter's dream [view contributor(s)]
Date Submitted: 2010-08-05 5:57
Viewed: 20937
Favorites: 1 [view]
Points: 84
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
This photo is taken in Weltvogelpark Walsrode. I’ve posted a photo of a King Vulture before from Ecuador. Now I had the opportunity to make a close portrait. The colours are very special. A lot of people think that vultures are ugly birds, but they aren’t at all. Before I posted photos of a Rüppell’s Vulture, an Egyptian Vulture, a White-headed Vulture, a Hooded Vulture, a Palm-nut Vulture and a Bearded Vulture and, some more than others, they all look great.

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, though some believe that William Bartram's Painted Vulture of Florida may be of this species. It is the only surviving member of the genus Sarcoramphus, though fossil members are known.

It is large and predominantly white, with gray to black ruff, flight, and tail feathers. Its head and neck are bald, with the skin color varying, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red. The King Vulture has a very noticeable yellow fleshy caruncle on its beak. This vulture is a scavenger and it often makes the initial cut into a fresh carcass. It also displaces smaller New World vulture species from a carcass. King Vultures have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity.

King Vultures were popular figures in the Mayan codices as well as in local folklore and medicine. Though currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, they are decreasing in number, due primarily to habitat loss.

Taxonomy and systematics
The King Vulture was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae as Vultur papa. It was reassigned to the genus Sarcoramphus in 1805 by André Marie Constant Duméril.
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.

The adult King Vulture is the most strikingly colored of the New World vultures. It is predominantly white, though its ruff, flight, and tail feathers range from gray to an opalescent black. The white plumage also has a slight rose-yellow tinge to it. It has a thick, strong bill that, whilst the most powerful among the New World vultures, is quite small compared to that of other large birds of prey. This bill has a hooked tip and a sharp cutting edge. The bird has broad wings and a short, broad, and square tail. Its eyes are straw-colored and it has keen eyesight. Unlike some New World vultures, the King Vulture lacks eyelashes. The King Vulture also has a highly noticeable yellow fleshy crest on its orange and black bill; this caruncle does not fully form until the bird’s fourth year. 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 approximately five or six years of age.

The vulture’s head and neck are featherless as an adaptation for hygiene, though there are black bristles on parts of the head; this lack of feathers prevents bacteria from the carrion it eats from ruining its feathers and exposes the skin to the sterilizing effects of the sun. The skin on the neck and head can be many colors, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red. The bird's skin is also wrinkled near the ear and back of the neck.

Excluding the two species of condors, the King Vulture is the largest of the New World vultures. Its overall length ranges from 67–81 centimeters and its wingspan is 1.2–2 meters . Its weight ranges from 2.7–4.5 kilograms.

Distribution and habitat
The King Vulture inhabits an estimated 14 million square kilometers 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. This bird is often the most numerous or only vulture present in primary lowland forests in its range, but in the Amazon rainforest it is typically outnumbered by the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, while typically outnumbered by the Lesser Yellow-headed, Turkey and American Black Vulture in more open habitats. King Vultures generally do not live above 1200 meters. They inhabit the emergent forest level, or above the canopy.

Ecology and behavior
The King Vulture is an expert glider, sometimes soaring for hours without flapping its wings. While in flight, its wings are held dihedral, or flat with slightly raised tips, and from a distance the vulture can appear to be headless while in flight. Its wing beats are deep and strong. Despite its size and gaudy coloration, this vulture is quite inconspicuous when it is perched in trees. While perched, it holds its head lowered and thrust forward. It is non-migratory and, unlike the Turkey, Lesser Yellow-headed and American Black Vulture, it generally lives alone or in small family groups. However, it can gather in large groups at a carcass. King Vultures have lived up to 30 years in captivity, though their lifespan in the wild is unknown. This vulture uses urohidrosis, defecating on its legs, in order to lower its body temperature. Despite its bill and large size, it is relatively unaggressive at a kill and will normally back down rather than fight. The King Vulture lacks a voice box, though it can make low croaking noises and wheezing sounds. Its only natural predators are snakes, which will prey upon the vulture's eggs and young, and large cats such as jaguars, which may surprise and kill an adult vulture at a carcass.

The King Vulture feeds solely on carrion and, unlike some New World vultures, is not known to kill sick or dying animals for food. It often eats stranded fish along river banks, but does not come to village refuse dumps for food. Though it has keen eyesight which can help it locate food, there are two theories regarding how it specifically finds carrion. Some argue that it uses its sense of smell to find animal carcasses.

Others argue that it does not have a sense of smell, and instead follows the smaller Turkey Vultures and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, which do have a sense of smell, to a carcass. A recent study demonstrated that the King Vulture could find carrion in the forest without the aid of other vultures, suggesting that it locates food using a sense of smell. The King Vulture primarily eats carrion found in the forest, though it is known to venture onto nearby savannas in search of food. Once it has found a carcass, the King Vulture displaces the other vultures because of its large size and strong bill. However, when it is at the same kill as the larger Andean Condor, the King Vulture always defers to it.

Using its bill to tear, it makes the initial cut in a fresh carcass. This allows the smaller, weaker-beaked vultures, which can not open the hide of a carcass, access to the carcass after the King Vulture has fed. The vulture’s tongue is rasp-like, which allows it to pull flesh off of the carcass’s bones. Generally, it only eats the skin and harder parts of the tissue of its meal.

An adult King Vulture sexually matures when it is about four or five years old. The birds mainly breed during the dry season. The vultures give an elaborate courting display in which the pair circle each other on the ground while flapping their wings and making loud wheezing noises and snorting sounds while mating. King Vultures mate for life and 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 32 to 38 days before it hatches. If the egg is lost, it will often be replaced after about six weeks. Young are altricial, or helpless at birth. The chick is born featherless, but quickly gains some black down feathers. The chicks do not molt into their white adult plumage until they reach five or six years of age. When they are first born, the chicks are fed with meat brought to them directly from their parents’ claws, but eventually they are fed by regurgitation.

This bird is a species of Least Concern to the IUCN, with an estimated range of 14,000,000 square kilometers and between 10,000 and 100,000 wild individuals. However, there is evidence that suggests a decline in population, though it is not significant enough to cause it to be listed. This decline is due primarily to habitat destruction and poaching

ramthakur, MMM, Heaven, Argus, marhowie, jlinaresp, Dis. Ac., uleko, jaycee, Athila, horias, siggi, bahadir, anemone, Miss_Piggy, rommel, haraprasan, albert, Pentaxfriend, marius-secan, tuslaw, maurydv, rousettus, CeltickRanger has marked this note useful
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ThreadThread Starter Messages Updated
To Zeno: WalsrodePeterZ 1 08-10 12:46
Animal Behaviouringridshaul 1 08-05 07:11
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Critiques [Translate]

A stunningly beautiful portrait, Peter!
This King Vulture has truly regal facial features, not to speak of the rich colours they display.
Well done and TFS.

  • Great 
  • MMM Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1114 W: 0 N: 2546] (11425)
  • [2010-08-05 6:08]

Hi Peter
What a beautiful portrait.Everything is perfect,sharpness,detail,colors,light pose and the POV.It is a beautiful bird and your text is also great.
Congradulation and TFS

Dear Peter!

I would say that the little green star your picture already has got says all what has to be said... Indeed, the portrait you present us today simply is superb and the impact on the viewer is very strong. It's crystal clear and sharp and the colour management is perfect, revealing well saturated, but still natural colours.

Kind regards


Dear Peter,
This is truly a wonderful portrait and you have used all your experience and know-how of photographic techniques to produce this master work. Congratulations!

Your interesting, informative notes ably support your photo making it a fantastic document.

I know, some members frown upon images of animals in captivity. However your contributions to TrekNature taken in this Bird Park would be impossible to take in such detail in the wild...

Thanks for all the work you have put into the exercise to show us this King Vulture.

Enjoy your evening
Warm Greetings from South Africa

  • Great 
  • Argus Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5038 W: 260 N: 15594] (50626)
  • [2010-08-05 7:24]

Hello Peter,
This is a superb close-up of a King Vulture, the details of the head and neck shown with such fine colours and sharpness that it would almost be impossible for such a photo of this bird in the wild state. Judging by the fine condition of this bird, it seems to be very well looked after.
The pose of the head and POV also contribute to this high quality image.
I guess if I had access to such a bird park I would also modify my principles of only taking subjects in the wild, especially such fine close-ups! :)
Thanks and have a nice evening,

Colors, exposure, and details look good Peter, like the slight head turn there.
Well done :)

Hello Peter,
What a wonderful portrait! ... awesome! ... quite artistic! ... is an impressive way to enjoy the colors and the structure of the head of this bird! I love this photo! ... is a bird that was common in Venezuela years ago, but now it has almost disappeared, now very strange see this great vulture here!.... here we call this "rey Zamuro".
TFS, Regards, Jesús

Hallo Peter,

wat een foto, mooi man.
Heb hem wel gezien maar zat nooit mooi.
Allemachtig hier ka je met recht trots op zijn.

  • Great 
  • uleko Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3396 W: 172 N: 3310] (10940)
  • [2010-08-05 7:54]

Hello Peter,
Hardly a beauty but a very colourful and striking bird! I love your POV and the impressive sharp details. Very nicely framed too.
TFS and best wishes, Ulla

  • Great 
  • joska Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 806 W: 0 N: 4092] (22535)
  • [2010-08-05 8:32]

Hi Peter,

Splendid colors and beautiful details on this King Vulture, TFS!

  • Great 
  • jaycee Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2454 W: 10 N: 8044] (25460)
  • [2010-08-05 9:00]

Hi Peter,

It is always a delight to see your Bird Park photos and this ranks up there with the best of the best. An absolutely magnificent portrait of this exotic looking King Vulture. The way he is holding is head and the look on his face are priceless. The colors - the details of his face - texture of his well-groomed feathers - are all superb. I love the narrow vertical composition.


great portriat, TFS Ori

Bonjour Peter,

It is not the prettiest bird, but it is a great portrait. Good sharpness, nice soft light and contrast. Nice Bohkey in the BG. good work and TFS


  • Great 
  • horias Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 837 W: 58 N: 2084] (11033)
  • [2010-08-05 10:14]

Hi Peter
Waw...what a great portrait of this lovely King Vulture.
Details and colors are fantastic!
Congratulation for this beauty!

hallo Peter
Wat een kleuren pracht
Super mooi kop met veel details en mooie scherpte
mooie opname Peter
Als je met mij gaat lopen dan kom je van alles tegen
Ze zeggen wel eens je moet er oog voor hebben
Nou en dat heb ik ,geluukig
bedankt groetjes lou

  • Great 
  • siggi Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3097 W: 109 N: 12399] (52850)
  • [2010-08-05 12:44]

Hello Peter.
A very interesting study in colour and textures all in one portrait of King Vulture.Excellent DOF and POV.The details are razor sharp,the colours bold and
vivid.Best regards Siggi

Hello Peter, excellent close-up shot of this cute species with wonderful details and composition.
TFS and regards,

Hello peter
This is amazing portrait shot.. great details, warm colous and excellent POV.
Thanks for sharing
Best Regards

Hallo Peter
What more can I add to everything, everybody before me has said? This is a striking portrait and this Vulture surely has colourful and most prominent features. It is a super sharp image with a great point of view, emphasising the eye beautifully from this angle. I also agree with Michel(MMM) that the text is great. Thanks for sharing.
Best regards.

Hi Peter,

This beautiful portrait is definitely one that should not be overlooked. Flawles capture in all around! The expression on her face are fantastic and cute!
TFS and have a great WE MF!


Hellow Peter,
An amazing and well captured portrait of this vulture.Your clarity being very strong and portraying perfectly its beautiful and unique colouration.

Precioso trabajo Peter, todo un deleite de colores para los sentidos !
Hábil y eficaz formato.

Buen fin de semana: Josep Ignasi.

Hi Peter,
A brilliant captured portrait of this king vulture. Excellent composition and sharp details. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Great 
  • vanda Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 338 W: 25 N: 754] (3673)
  • [2010-08-06 5:46]

Hi Peter!
Fantastic close-up with impressive details!!
Excellent light and colours.
Very good blurred BG.
Ciao! Vanda

Hello Peter,
Whaaaaa, a beautiful and colorful portrait
Well done and many thanks to share this beauty

Perfect and great capture of this vulture with such "unreal" face.
Congratulations and greetings.Alin.

  • Great 
  • foozi Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 2791 W: 0 N: 6696] (25839)
  • [2010-08-06 7:07]

Hello Peter,
such a superb view of this beautiful vulture.
Strong colours and splendid clarity.
you have emphasise the beauty in a wonderful presentation.
Really exciting and your note is very comvincing too.
Superb work.


Ha Peter,

Prachtig portret van deze kleurrijke "Koningsgier"
Scherpte, kleur, POV en achtergrond zijn Prima

TFS Thijs

Gorgeous close up of this beautiful vulture. I've seen these in central America but have not photographed them there yet, hopefully one day soon. Well done. :)

Hello Peter,
Outstanding portrait with razor sharp details and superb colours.
Great capture!

Hello Peter,
Interesting creature! It is a wonderful portrait of this strange bird taken with great details, nice colors and excellent sharpness. Well done!

Hello Peter
Les couleurs du cou et du bec sont surprenantes, ainsi que le contour de l'oeil.
Comme une star de cinéma qui se serait maquillée...
Merci pour ce portrait

  • Great 
  • anel Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 3053 W: 3 N: 8715] (40574)
  • [2010-08-07 3:28]

Hello Peter,
Must really be the King of vultures with this striking coloration. You had a great opportunity in the Walsrode-parc to make this marvellous portrait of the bird. I hope that this marvellous Vulture will survive in nature. Thanks also for the interesting note.
Kind regards

  • Great 
  • pvb Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 385 W: 16 N: 531] (1981)
  • [2010-08-07 4:21]

Hoi Peter,
Dit is nog eens een kleurrijk portret en zéér gedetailleerd!
Goed van scherpte en leuke pose van je model.
fijn weekend.

  • Great 
  • tuslaw Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2754 W: 282 N: 4931] (19883)
  • [2010-08-07 14:09]

Hello Peter,
What an amazingly colorful bird this truly is. I would never have guessed that a vulture could be so beautiful, but your photo proves otherwise. Exceptional detail, color and exposure. Very informative notes! TFS.

Haha Peter,
Ook een ster zeker. Met veel kleuren dan. Blijft een waanzinnige vogel. Dit is zeker een mooi exemplaar. Perfecter dan die van de Beekse Bergen.
Heel leuk portret.
Goed geschoten.
Bedankt en groeten,

Hallo Peter,
what a fantastic portrait of the King Vulture, superb sharpness and impressive detail, marvellous colours, a very pleasing close composition.
Best regards

  • Great 
  • horia Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2158 W: 224 N: 4749] (16656)
  • [2010-08-09 3:27]

Hi Peter

It's really difficult to find something the others haven't picked that looks so good from your photo...it's indeed a true beauty!
Instead, i think i'll tell you what i like most: and there actually two elements:
1 - the turned pose of the head of the vulture
2 - (and maybe the part i like the most) the great, bright BG

I think these two, combined with the general light in the frame make this such a strong, powerful image.
Wonderful work!

Bravo and TFS

  • Great 
  • Zeno Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 483 W: 0 N: 1345] (10867)
  • [2010-08-10 12:38]
  • [+]

Dag Peter,

Deze gier is werkelijk uniek. Wat een kleurenpracht!De compositie is fraai en maakt duidelijk waarin deze gier uitblinkt.
Ik ga zelf a.s. zondag naar Walsrode en verheug me er nu al op.


  • Great 
  • GaryT Gold Star Critiquer [C: 102 W: 7 N: 236] (160)
  • [2010-08-18 15:41]

Wonderful portrait -- the color is incredible. Gary

Hello Peter
I missed this shot since I was in field trip in its posting date. superb portraite of this large vulture. sharp details, POV and coloration great. nicely composed and presented. thanks for sharing, have a nice weekend

Hello Peter

Excellent portrait of this beautifully colored vulture,
with amazing and beautiful eye-contact with you,
excellent focus, sharpness, and details, TFS


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