I first encountered the King Vulture, it was just a little after
eight in the morning as I was bouncing along the long stretch
of dirt road just past the crossroads referred to by most locals
in the Toledo District of southern Belize as “the dump”.
At first I only noticed one perched atop a dead tree just off
to my left. Then as I got closer, I realized there were about
fourteen to sixteen huge vultures devouring the carcass of what
appeared to be a gibnut.
The King Vulture or American Vulture, scientific name Sarcoramphus
papa, stands for Cib, the thirteenth day of the month in the hieroglyphics
of the Pre-Columbian Maya calendar. They are not considered to
be under threat in their habitat in the tropical rainforest from
South Mexico to Southern Argentina.
At average weight of 3.8 kilograms and standing tall at around
85 centimeters, the carnivorous King Vultures do no kill their
prey, they eat carrion or animals that are already dead. Generally
they rely upon other vultures like the Turkey Vulture or Candors
to locate the dead animals. The King Vulture then joins in on
the feed, generally dominating the feed over other species that
gather. Because the King Vulture has the superior strength they
often rip open the carcass a move that in turns allow more birds
Interesting points about the King Vultures, they use warm air
thermals to allow them to soar and stay aloft for the most part
of the day. They also have a digestive system that is very conducive
to digesting bacteria. This is ecologically important in that
the King Vultures dispose of rotting and decaying carcasses that
in turn protects against the spread of disease.
King Vultures have been know to live in excess of thirty years.
Although very little is actually known about the King Vultures,
there is no known species that preys on the bird. Of course, once
man encroaches upon their habitat through deforestation as is
this case from Mexico to Brazil, the King Vultures in time will
dethroned and ultimately be wiped off the face of the earth.