Animal of the Week: King Vulture
By Sara Umbrell, Layout Director
This week's animal of the week is the king vulture! These guys are the second largest of the New World Vulture, second only to condors. They can grow up to two-and-a-half feet tall and can weigh up to eight pounds. While this doesn’t seem like much, the average bird only weighs a couple of ounces! King vultures cover a range in tropical climates spanning from the southern end of Mexico to the southern end of Argentina. Their wings are short and broad, and, unlike the typical vulture, their feathers are mostly white (rather than black), with only a black band running along the back of their wings.
King vultures have a fleshy part on their face near their beak, which is called a wattle. This is similar to what turkeys and roosters have, and both are a type of caruncle. It serves multiple functions, some of which are to differentiate males from females (males will have them), as an ornament for finding a mate (a bigger one means good predator evasion and good nutrition, which suggests a successful mate) and, on particularly hot days, the wattle helps release excess heat, since birds cannot sweat!
King vultures are, infact, vultures, so they are carrion eaters, meaning they eat carcasses of other animals that have already been killed by something else. They have well-adapted eyesight and smell to help them locate a food source. Though these guys may seem like they would dominate at a feeding site, they actually wait for other vultures or scavengers to come and tear the carcass open. They will feast on the eyes, which provides them with good nutrition and are easy to reach while waiting.
When nesting, king vultures will find hollow logs, tree stumps or other natural cavities to reside in. They don’t usually use much material to build the nest and tend to just scratch it out of the soil they’re on. Only one egg is laid, and both parents bear the responsibility of incubating it. Luckily, these guys are not of any concern for endangerment or extinction, so hopefully it stays that way!