King Vulture at calf carcass

King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa); Zopilote rey; Königsgeier; Sarcoramphe roi

Most of my sightings of Costa Rica’s biggest vulture, the King Vulture, have been of birds in flight high above me. En route to Las Brisas Reserve via Santa Teresita, however, Steven Aguilar and I found 3 adults and one immature bird perched in a tree close to the roadside, together with numerous Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus). One of the adults descended to what looked like the fresh carcass of a calf and Steven took the cellphone photograph below:

King Vulture joins the feast at Pascua; photo by Steven Aguilar Montenegro

The King Vulture is the only surviving member of its genus within the Cathartidae family of American vultures. Its nearest relative world-wide is the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus). The wattled and multi-coloured head is a remarkable sight if you can find a perched or feeding bird:

Close-up of an adult King Vulture at El Coco, Siquirres; photo by John Beer

The King Vulture is a fairly common species in the lowlands of Costa Rica, but it can occasionally be seen as high as 1300 m. In our area it’s always worthwhile to scan flocks of soaring Black and/or Turkey Vultures just in case you get lucky.

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