Unlike many New World vultures, the king vulture does not have eyelashes. King vultures grow to about 2.5 feet tall and may get to a weight of 8 pounds, making them the largest New World vulture, except for the condors. A distinctive bird, the king vulture is easily recognized. The wings are short and quite broad and from the neck down the birds are white with a black band running along the rear edge of the wings. A small collar of feathers at the base of the neck is blackish-gray while the bare skin on the head and neck is orange, green, yellow and purplish blue. The crown is covered with small bristle-like feathers and a fleshy wattle directly above the nostrils. King vultures eat carrion. They have a thick, strong beak which is well adapted for tearing, and long, thick claws for holding the meat. They have keen eyesight and sense of smell that they use to find their food. Though it appears to dominate over a feeding site, this vulture actually relies on other stronger-beaked carrion-eaters to initially rip open the hide of a carcass. Did you know: the fleshy wattle that bulges from the king vulture's beak is called a 'caruncle.' Both males and females sport these facial features, though the wattle's purpose continues to perplex scientists.
This story appears in the May 2017 issue of National Zoo News. Learn more about king vultures at the Bird House outdoor exhibit!