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A photo of a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus)
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture

Cathartes burrovianus

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes burrovianus, also known as the Savannah Vulture, is a striking bird of prey belonging to the New World vulture family, Cathartidae. It is a large bird, with a wingspan ranging from 150 to 165 centimeters. The plumage is predominantly black with a greenish sheen, while the head and neck are featherless, displaying a pale orange coloration with red or blue patches. The species lacks a syrinx, which limits its vocal range to grunts or low hisses.

Identification Tips

To identify the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, look for its black body plumage with a green sheen, and the distinctive pale orange head and neck with red or blue areas. The eyes have red irises, the legs are white, and the beak is flesh-colored. The tail is rounded and relatively short for a vulture, and the tip of the closed wing extends beyond the tail. Juveniles are browner with a dusky head and a white nape.

Habitat

This vulture inhabits subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, swamps, mangroves, and heavily degraded former forests. It is typically found at low altitudes and avoids high-elevation areas.

Distribution

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is found across a broad range from Mexico through Central America to South America, including countries such as Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Behaviour

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is often seen flying solitarily, with wings held in a dihedral position, gliding at low altitudes over wetlands in search of food. It perches on fence posts or other low perches and is known for its static soaring flight, utilizing thermals to maintain altitude with minimal effort. This species is believed to be somewhat migratory, responding to changes in water levels in its habitat.

Song & Calls

Due to the absence of a syrinx, the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture's vocalizations are limited to grunts or low hisses.

Breeding

Breeding involves laying eggs on flat surfaces such as cave floors or hollows of stumps. The eggs are cream-colored with heavy brown and gray blotches. The young are altricial, requiring extensive care, and are fed through regurgitation by the parents.

Similar Species

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture can be confused with the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, but it is smaller, less heavily built, and has a shorter, thinner tail. Its plumage is browner, and its head is more orange-tinged compared to the yellow head of the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture. It also shares similarities with the Turkey Vulture.

Diet and Feeding

This vulture feeds primarily on carrion, locating it by sight and smell, a rare ability among birds. It depends on larger vultures to open the hides of larger carcasses, as its bill is not strong enough for this task. It may also consume live invertebrates, larvae, and possibly small aquatic animals.

Conservation status

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with a stable population trend and an estimated global range of 7,800,000 square kilometers. The population is estimated to be between 100,000 and 1,000,000 individuals.

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Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures on Birda

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More New World Vultures

A photo of a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura
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