King Vulture Fort Worth Zoo
King Vulture
Scientific Name:
South Mexico - South Argentina
Tropical lowlands up to 4000'
Not threatened
Diet in the wild:
Diet in the zoo:
Carnivore diet
Location in the zoo:
Raptor Canyon


Physical Description:     Vultures have no hair on their head or neck, a thick strong bill, short thick claws, and large broad wings, about 32 inches in length.  Wing feathers, and back side are black; the head is orange, red, and blue; and the upper shoulders of the bird are mostly white. 

General Information: 
Not much is known about king vultures.  They live to about 30 years in captivity.  They are ground nesters and frequently nest under hanging rocks.  Vultures spend much of their time in the sun or preening their wings.  The incubation period is approximately 32-38 days and they only lay about two eggs.  The males and females take turns with the incubation.  Vultures become sexually mature after 4 to 5 years.  Evidence of vultures have been seen in early civilizations.  Maya's included them in their gliphic writing system, with the bird representing the King.  Rural South Americans believed that if the shadow of the vulture fell on a person, they would suffer a misfortune or death.  The blood and feathers of vultures were used to ward off diseases in Native American cultures.


Special Anatomical, Physiological or Behavioral Adaptations:  King vulture Fort Worth Zoo

Vultures have larger olfactory glands than most birds.  They easily find food in heavily forested areas by following other smaller vultures to their food..  Does not have a syrinx and can only grunt, cackle, or hiss.  Has short blunt claws that are not used for catching prey, but used for walking.  The head is bald so that it is easily cleaned when devouring prey.  The beak is used to tear through hides, ligaments and cartilage.  The tongue is rasp like and helps to pull the flesh from the bones.  King Vultures do not have feathers on their head to help stay clean by keeping most of the blood and body materials off of their body.  They also sit out in the sun after eating and use the heat for the sun to help kill bacteria. 

Comments About the King Vultures of the Fort Worth Zoo:  There is a breeding pair of king vultures at the Fort Worth Zoo. From what I have seen at the Fort Worth Zoo, vultures seem to spend most of their time perched on branches and watching their surroundings.  They are otherwise basically as described above.

Related Links:

Page Author:  Scott Meneely;

Source List:
Grzimek's Animal Live Encyclopedia.   Birds I.  Dr. Dr. h.c. Bernhard Grzimek.  Van Norstrand Reinhold Company, New York.  pages 63, 334, 343, 344.
The Name Plate at the Fort Worth Zoo.

Pictures courtesy of The Belize Zoo at

{short description of image}WhoZoo Home
Animal Index