11 types of vultures - Names, characteristics and PHOTOS

Help the development of the site, sharing the article with friends!

Vultures are birds of prey and scavengers, which means that they feed only on meat and mainly on decomposing animals. They play a very important role in ecosystems, but since Charles Darwin they have had a bad reputation, as he described them as disgusting for feeding like this. They have a series of impressive morphological adaptations to adapt to this particular way of eating and more surprising traits.

If you want to know more about the fascinating and different types of vulturesContinue reading this Green Ecologist article where we will talk about these imposing types of birds.

Characteristics of vultures

We will start by describing the main characteristics of vultures:

  • Are carrion birds with hooked beaks adapted to rip meat, with claws less sharp than their relatives the eagles, since their prey is already dead. Here you can learn more about What are scavengers.
  • Its most distinctive feature is that most species have no feathers on the head, neck and legs, which facilitates hygiene after getting dirty while feeding.
  • Around the naked neck they have a collar of feathers, which is called a ruff.
  • Eating decaying meat could make any animal not adapted to it sick, but their stomachs have a more acidic pH than usual, to be able to digest the unusual food much faster and better.
  • If they ingest tissues or substances that are difficult to digest such as nails, hair or feathers, they regurgitate it in clusters called pellets.
  • During their flight they can take advantage of air currents to facilitate the process, which also frees them up to focus their vision on find carrion from the heights.
  • The discovery of carrion can last up to several days as it is directly related to the carnivorous habits of predators in which they can also spend several days searching for food.
  • When they find food, they tend to gorge themselves, which makes it difficult for them to take flight. In case of being in danger they can vomit or regurgitate their food to be able to take flight.
  • Although some vultures fly together, there are usually disputes over food and in places with carrion there can be a variety of species.
  • Birds that meet these characteristics are considered vultures, but they really exist two taxonomic groups that divide them and that they are not related to each other. On the contrary, environmental conditions in different parts of the planet created species that converged into similar, but taxonomically different organisms. Between both groups meet 21 species of vultures, and then we will tell you some details about the most representative ones.

What are the types of vultures

As we have indicated before, there are two different taxonomic groups, so the main types of vultures are divided into:

  • The first type of vultures are the Accipitrids or Old World vultures. They inhabit the old continent and are characterized by having a powerful vision. For example, this group includes the Egyptian vulture and the bearded vulture.
  • The second type of vultures are the Cathartids or New World vultures, of the Cathartidae family. These American vultures have a fairly developed sense of smell and include auras, vultures, and condors.

Griffon vulture

Gyps fulvus inhabits the mountains of southwest Europe and asia, just like him Northwest Africa, being so from the Old World. Being in high mountains, it is easier for him to glide with his large wings. It is particular for its enormous size that it can reach between 2.30 and 2.65 meter wingspan, as well as measuring between 0.95 and 1.10 meters in length. Its beak is bulbous and the feathers that emerge from its neck turn white with age.


Gypaetus barbatus It bears a common name that refers to its particular way of feeding: it carries in flight to dead animals to great heights, to drop them against rocks and have their bones break. Going down, it consumes the exposed marrow.

His physique also lives up to his name, as his huge black wings and diamond-shaped tail fall like a cape over his white body, while his face is covered with a black mask, giving him a theatrical appearance. Is found in Africa, Europe and Asia, belonging to the family of the Accipítridos of the Old World.

Red-headed vulture

Sarcogyps calvus is also known as black king vulture. Its head, bare of feathers, is red, hence its name. It is usually found in areas close to human settlements, it has solitary habits and its diet depends practically on the corpses of livestock. This species is found in danger of extinctionAs their main food, which used to be hoofed animals, is disappearing. Improved waste management has also led them to run out of food. It lives in the Old World, in the region of india.

Egyptian vulture or Egyptian vulture

Neophron percnopterus it has quite strange habits, even for a scavenger. This animal use rocks to open ostrich eggs and consume the content, which speaks of his enormous intelligence to lean on tools. They are also very careful with their nests, where they use small rods to roll wool. Although they mainly eat carrion, they can also hunt small animals if they cannot find any decomposing bodies.

We encourage you to discover more Egyptian fauna with this other post about the Flora and fauna of Egypt.

Gloomy Egyptian vulture

Necrosyrtes monachus, Old World vulture, measures 1.6 meters in wingspan and has a brown color, square tail and no plumage on the neck. It is practically sedentary and feeds on carrion, insects and even human feces. It is a common species in Africa, but some regions, such as Senegal, have seen drastic decreases of up to 85%, which is why it is classified as critically endangered.

Black vulture

Aegypius monachus They are also known as Iberian vultures, although their location is much broader: they range from the south asian to the Mediterranean islands and the Iberian Peninsula. It is important to emphasize that this black vulture is different from the American one, hence the importance of scientific names to refer to organisms. Its plumage is slightly brown and runs up its neck. The parts of carrion they prefer are the muscles and they complement this meal with hunting of small animals that are taken to their nest, a place that they frequent as they are quite sedentary. They are also monogamous and not very gregarious animals.

American black vulture

Also known as buzzard, Coragyps atratus it is completely black. Its face is rough and folds, which helps to visually differentiate it from the black vulture of the old continent. It measures approximately 60 centimeters and its behavior is quite gregarious. Often found in flocks soaring near mountains in search of decomposing bodies and even circling dying animals to take them to the next step and begin their feeding. Inhabit from the United States to Chile, making it a New World vulture. According to its location, a different subspecies corresponds, and it may be North American, South American and Andean.

Red headed american vulture

Cathartes aura It is an American vulture from the New World, from Canada to Mexico, migrating to cold Canadian areas only during the reproductive season. It is also known as turkey vulture by his naked red head. Its beak is hooked to manage to tear its prey to feed. Their behavior is very quiet and their songs are hisses. It is a very early riser, it usually perches as soon as the sun rises in the treetops with its wings spread to take heat.

Andean condor

The Andean condor o Vultur gryphus is he Largest land bird, since when opening its wings it reaches up to 3 meters, so it was an important symbol for the Andean culture and the Southern Cone. This area is where the flight takes off in search of carrion, especially along the Andes mountains.

You can use other scavengers as guides, following them to find food. Usually this association is made with the chicken-turkey aura. He is very patient and can go several weeks without eating, which he makes up for with a large stomach capacity of several kilos proportional to his large size. He is also peculiar for his monogamy, where he respects his partner and only changes when he dies.

If you want to get to know this great animal better, we invite you to read about Why the condor is in danger of extinction.

Royal condor

Sarcoramphus papa It has white fur and a bare head with a striking pattern of bright red, yellow, orange and black colors, with an aesthetic appearance that is very contrasting with the other vultures. Its wingspan is up to 2 meters, a size that is useful for displacing other scavenger species. Despite this, they are very calm and do not like conflict.

They do not have a very good sense of smell and are highly dependent on other vultures for food. It is also known as the jungle condor, as it lives in these ecosystems, from Mexico to Argentina, so it belongs to the cathartids. They are found in the emerging layer of the jungles, which is the highest area. Being difficult to reach by humans, there is much to know about this condor. It is classified as in danger of extinction, threatened mainly by pesticide poisoning.

Californian condor

Gymnogyps californianus lives from Arizona, U.S, to Baja California, to South of Mexico. It belongs to the cathartic family and belongs to the vultures of the New World. Is he largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of 3 meters, and has been a significant animal to the Navajo natives. They have been around for 11,000 years. They suffered intense hunting campaigns, with which they became extinct in their wild habitat in 1987, but thanks to conservation efforts in North American zoos they have been able to reproduce and many specimens have been reinserted into their native habitat.

Curiosities of the vultures

To finish, we comment on some of the most striking curiosities about vultures:

  • The vultures are responsible for eliminating 70% of the African carrion, which would otherwise accumulate.
  • How much does a vulture weigh? It can go from 1.5 kg to 12 kg, depending on the species.
  • The name Carthartidae comes from the Latin kathartes which means those who purify, while Accipitridae comes from the Latin accipiter, which means bird of prey.
  • Vultures do an important service to the elimination of pathogenic residues potentially dangerous for humans and other species.
  • Many species of vultures, such as the African white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus), are at risk of disappearing due to hunting, persecution and change in land use, which represents a great risk of the ecosystem balance.

After discovering all this information about the different types of vultures, you may want to learn more about these and other birds. To do this, we recommend you read our articles on the Classification of Birds and Birds in Danger of Extinction.

If you want to read more articles similar to Types of vultures, we recommend that you enter our Wild Animals category.

  • African Wildlife Foundation (2022) Wildlife Conservation, Vulture. Available at https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/vulture
  • Beatty, R., Beer, A. and Deeming, C. (2010) The Book of nature. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley.
  • National Geographic (2022) Andean Condor. Available at https://www.nationalgeographic.es/animales/condor-andino
  • Global raptors (2010) Species account: Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus. Available at: http://www.globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8319
  • SEO Bird Life (2008) Shady Egyptian vulture. Available at https://seo.org/ave/alimoche-sombrio/
  • Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí (s.f.) Cathartes aura. Available at http://evirtual.uaslp.mx/Agronomia/clubdeaves/Falconiformes/Paginas/Aura.aspx
  • Ormiston, D. (2003) Sarcoramphus papa. Available at: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sarcoramphus_papa/
  • National Park Service (s.f.) California Condor Fossil. Available at: https://www.nps.gov/articles/california-condor-fossil.htm
You will help the development of the site, sharing the page with your friends
This page in other languages: