Besides having a stinky nest, the king vulture practices urohydrosis—it defecates on its legs to lower its body temperature. Besides these more gross facts, the king vulture is a fascinating bird. It is moderately intelligent, being able to figure out puzzles and can be trained. Our male king vulture, Sid, is trained to step on a scale to be weighed.
Distribution: Grasslands and forests from southern Mexico through northern Argentina (though absent from Chile)
Diet in the Wild: Carrion
Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Bird of prey diet, mice and turkey necks
IUCN Red List Status: Least concern, population decreasing
Threats: Habitat destruction
As with other vultures, the king vulture lacks feathers on its head and neck. This lack of feathers helps it to stay clean by reducing the chance that rotting meat gets caught between feathers, and may also play a role in thermoregulation, allowing heat to easily escape from the exposed skin.
Because vultures assist with the removal of decaying animal material, they play an important ecological role by reducing the growth and spread of disease-causing bacteria.
Though other birds often make way for king vultures when they arrive at a carcass, the king vulture actually relies on scavengers with stronger beaks to tear through the thick hide of the carcass.
The king vulture is the second largest New World vulture, with condors being the largest.
Sid is our lone King Vulture in our South American habitat at the zoo. He is known to follow keepers around when they are cleaning and will pester the monkeys when he gets a chance. Sid will even take a stick from keepers and play with it similar to a dog. He loves to chew on deer bones, but his favorite food is hard boiled eggs. At times he can be seen courting both keepers and visitors by spreading his wings and lowering his head.