King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km² combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
The population size has not been quantified, but the species is generally infrequently observed, described as rare and mostly seen in small numbers (Reid 1989, del Hoyo et al. 1994, Haenn et al. 2014, Holste et al. 2020, J. Barrio in litt. 2023).

Trend justification
There is no data on the population trend (Santangeli et al. 2022). However, local declines have been reported in parts of the range, including in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, northern Ecuador and Paraguay (R. Clay in litt. 2023, P. Monar in litt. 2023, J. F. Restrepo Mesa in litt. 2023, C. Ruiz-Guerra in litt. 2023, J. Van Dort in litt. 2023). The drivers of the decline are somewhat unclear, but loss and degradation of habitat are likely contributing factors (per Holste et al. 2020). The population trend however appears to vary, as the species is reported to be stable in Brazil and Bolivia (B. Hennessey in litt. 2023, E. R. Luiz in litt. 2023, B. Phalan in litt. 2023, R. Subirá in litt. 2023).
Considering that the majority of the global population is found in Brazil (per Fink et al. 2022, Monroy-Ojeda 2022) it is likely that the declines detected in the periphery of the range are to a certain extent balanced out by the presumed stability in its core. Nevertheless, as there is strong evidence that population reductions are taking place in parts of the range, it is assumed that the overall population is undergoing a slow decline.

Distribution and population

The species has a wide distribution, ranging from southern Mexico through Central America and South America to Paraguay and northern Argentina.


The species inhabits dry and humid forest, and is also seen foraging in open habitats including grassland, savanna and even cattle pastures (Holste et al. 2020). It however relies on the presence of mature, undisturbed forests and is not commonly found near human settlements or converted areas (Holste et al. 2020). It feeds on carrion and is able to open up large carcasses; it has been hypothesised that it does not possess a well-developed sense of smell but instead locates food by sight (Houston 1984, Holste et al. 2020). Its breeding biology is not well known, but nests have been found from the forest floor, on low tree stumps or higher up in trees (Holste et al. 2020 and references therein).


A major threat to the species is forest loss and degradation. Apart from a loss in habitat and nesting sites, the destruction of forests may additionally negatively impact the availability of prey; even though the species is also found in open habitats and shows some tolerance of disturbance it requires substantial patches of forest (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Holste et al. 2020). The main reasons for deforestation within the range are the expansion of agriculture and livestock pastures. Trophy hunting  represents an additional threat, though its impact has not been quantified and may be lower than the impacts of habitat loss (Holste et al. 2020).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs in a number of protected areas across its range. It is listed as Near Threatened at the national levels in French Guiana, Brazil and Ecuador (UICN France et al. 2017, ICMBio 2018, Freile et al. 2019).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Quantify the population size and trend. Research the species' ecology and behaviour and fill knowledge gaps. Investigate the impact of threats, particularly of forest loss and hunting, on the population size. Develop an action plan for the conservation of the species and its habitat. Monitor the population trend.
Protect areas of suitable habitat within the range. Establish reforestation programmes and restore degraded habitat. Raise awareness for the species.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Barrio, J., Butchart, S., Clay, R.P., Eitniear, J., Ekstrom, J., Flesher, K., Harding, M., Hennessey, B., Luiz, É.R., Molina Martínez, Y., Monar, P., Monroy-Ojeda, A., Nunes, A.P., Ogada, D., Paez Núñez, E., Phalan, B., Restrepo Mesa, J., Ruiz Guerra, C., Scherer Neto, P., Subirá, R. & Van Dort, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Sarcoramphus papa. Downloaded from on 26/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/02/2024.