Vultures are circling? That's a good thing!
It's unfortunate how we've always depicted vultures in negative light. On the contrary, these scavenging birds play an important role in containing the threat of disease by feeding on carrion.
Certain species of vultures are now endangered in some parts of the world. But vultures deserve our attention, and more importantly, our gratitude for performing the thankless job of scavenging. Here, we talk about king vultures in particular and why we need to be eternally grateful for the job they're doing.
Facts about King Vultures
✦ Sarcoramphus papa or king vultures are among the bird world's largest scavengers. They are found in the southern part of Mexico, Central America and parts of South America up to northern Argentina.
✦ Their habitat is quite hard to reach, seeing as they prefer living in the quietest part of the dense tropical forests. King vultures have also been spotted at elevations of up to 1200 meters.
✦ The white plumage of the king vulture is striking, and sets them apart from the other vulture species which are mostly black. The tips of their wings and tail is black, but the bald head and neck is covered in vivid colors. Their beige- or white-colored eyes have a piercing, almost menacing look.
✦ Their wingspan measures between 180 to 198 cm (71 to 78 inches). When measured from the head to the tip of the tail, they add up to about 71 to 81 cm (28 to 32 inches). Their weight ranges from 7 to 9 lbs.
✦ These birds are rarely spotted in the wild, which is why their lifestyle has mostly been studied only under captivity. Their mating rituals, in particular, are quite unique, and comprise loud, wheezing sounds. These birds are, by and large, monogamous and prefer to live solitary rather than in extended colonies.
✦ King vultures lay their eggs in hollows of tree logs or stumps or crevices, and do not build a conventional nest. They usually lay a single egg, and either only the female or both parents take turns to incubate it. The cream-colored egg may take up to two months to hatch.
✦ King vulture parents carry food for their young in their gut. It is then regurgitated to feed the chick. Young chicks get fed directly from the parent's beak, but older ones have their parents regurgitate the food onto the ground for them to eat.
✦ The regurgitation also helps keep predators away by raising a hellish stink around the nest. Even when they are ambushed, they use this method to dissuade a predator from coming too close.
✦ Owing to their large size and wingspan, king vultures predominantly rely on wind currents to help them glide in the sky. They conserve energy this way, as they don't have to continuously flap their wings.
✦ Their stomach acid is a unique adaptation, letting them digest food that would literally kill other living beings. It has actually been compared to battery acid, being able to tolerate high levels of botulism.
✦ The king vulture's sense of smell is not as sharp as some of the other members of the species. They, in fact, rely on other vultures to spot the prey and then descend to take part in feeding. King vultures are not aggressive in the least―their intimidating size and sharper beaks means that other vultures usually make way for them once they arrive.
✦ Even though vultures feed on dead animals, they never kill them themselves, even when they spot an animal nearing death. With their extremely hard beaks, king vultures feed on the skin and harder parts of tissue from the dead animals.
✦ King vultures, along with other members of the Cathartidae family, play a crucial role in the ecosystem. These birds are among the first to spot dead animals and immediately begin to feed on the decomposing remains. These birds are important in keeping their environment free of carrion, contributing to the reduction of possible sources of disease.
✦ Contrary to popular perception, vultures do not consume rotten meat at all times. They are experts when it comes to locating a carcass, and make a meal of it before it gets too rotten for consumption.
✦ King vultures are not easy to spot, considering their habitat. They do not roam in flocks, and are therefore never spotted in large numbers at once. They are classified as 'Least Concern' under the IUCN Red List; however, human activity is causing loss of habitat and posing a threat to their survival.