The Seven Species Of New World Vultures

Vultures are seen resting on a tree branch.
Vultures are seen resting on a tree branch.

The New World Vultures, also known as the condor family, refers to vultures belonging to the family Cathartidae. The family is represented by seven species belonging to five genera. These birds live in the warm, temperate areas of the Americas. The New World vultures are scavengers who feed mainly on carcasses of dead animals. They detect the carcasses using their keen sense of smell and sharp eyesight, unlike the Old World vultures which lack the former ability. Here is a list of the seven species of New World vultures and important features associated with them:

7. King Vulture

The king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), the only surviving species of the Sarcoramphus genus, is a large bird that lives in South and Central America. The range of the bird extends from northern Argentina in the south to southern Mexico in the north. Here, the bird inhabits the tropical lowland forests. The bird is predominantly white with gray to white tail, ruff, and flight feathers. The birds feed on carcasses, often displacing the smaller vultures from the site. The King vulture is known to live for about 30 years in captivity. Even though these birds have been classified as Least Concern, their numbers are fast falling due to habitat loss.

6. Andean Condor

The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), the only species of the genus Vultur, lives in South America. It is the world’s largest flying bird. The bird lives in the Andes Mountains of South America and the adjacent Pacific coasts. The Andean condor is black in color with a ruff of white feather surrounding the neck base. The head and neck of the bird are a dull red color and lacks feathers. The males of this species are larger than the females. The Andean condor is mainly a scavenger that prefers to feed on carcasses of large mammals like cattle or deer. The birds nest at elevations of up to 16,000 feet. Inaccessible rock ledges are the preferred nesting locations of these birds. The Andean condor is one of the world’s longest living birds with a lifespan of more than 70 years. The bird is regarded as a national symbol of many South American nations and is an integral part of the mythology and folklore of the region. IUCN classifies this bird as threatened. Habitat loss and secondary poisoning from hunter-killed carcasses are killing these birds.

5. California Condor

The (Gymnogyps californianus) is the largest terrestrial bird in North America. The bird became extinct in the wild in 1987 during which time the few remaining in the wild were captured to eliminate the possibility of complete extermination of the species. The captured birds were bred in captivity and individuals were then released in the wild. The birds have been released in the Grand Canyon area and the Zion National Park, and a few other locations in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Some individuals have been released in northern Baja California and the coastal mountains of California. Today, these birds are still critically endangered. The birds have a black plumage, bald head, yellow to bright orange skin color, and white patches on the underside of wings. It feeds on carrion and lives up to 60 years in the wild.

4. Greater Yellow-Headed Vulture

The greater yellow-headed vulture or the forest vulture (Cathartes melambrotus) lives in the tropical moist lowland forests of South America. The birds are fairly large in size, weighing around 1.65 kg and with a wingspan of 166178 cm. The bird locates carcasses by spell and sight and then feed on the carrion. The bird is dependant on the larger vulture species like the king vulture to access the interiors of the carcass. The beak of the greater yellow-headed vulture is not strong enough to tear through the hide of the larger mammals. The birds build their nests on cave floors or stump hollows and feed their young by regurgitation.

3. Lesser Yellow-Headed Vulture

The lesser yellow-headed vulture, also known as the savannah vulture (Cathartes burrovianus), is a bird living in Central America, South America, and Mexico. Within its range, the bird inhabits swamps, grasslands, degraded forests, and seasonally flooded lowland habitats. The bird is large in size with a wingspan of 150–165 cm. The savannah vulture has a black plumage, and featherless head and neck which are pale orange in color with specks of red or blue. Like other species of vultures, it feeds on carrion and locates food by smell and sight. It is also dependant on large vultures to open the hides of larger carcasses.

2. Turkey Vulture

The turkey vulture or the turkey buzzard (Cathartes aura) has a wide range stretching from southern Canada to South America’s southernmost tip. Within its range, the bird inhabits a wide variety of habitats including shrublands, pastures, deserts, subtropical forests, etc. The turkey vulture feeds almost exclusively on carrion and has a strong eyesight and sense of smell. The bird is named after the turkey bird since its bald red head and dark plumage closely resembles the appearance of a wild male turkey.

1. Black Vulture

The black vulture () is a species of vulture whose range extends from southeastern US to Central Chile and Uruguay. The bird inhabits relatively open areas within its range. It has a wingspan of 4.9 feet, black plumage, bare neck and head that is grayish-black in color, and a hooked, short beak. The scavenger feeds on carrion as well as eggs of young, newborn animals. The birds living in the vicinity of human localities also feed on garbage in garbage dumps.


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