The most brilliantly colored and striking of all is the King Vulture (Gypagus papa), which is found more or less abundantly over the whole of tropical America, except the West Indies, extending north into Mexico and possibly reaching southern Arizona. It is from twenty-seven to thirty-four inches in length and has a spread of wings of about six feet. The “ruff” about the neck is lead-colored, the feathers white at base. The wings, wing-coverts, rump, upper tail-coverts, and tail are black, the secondaries edged exterior with white, while the remainder of the plumage is vinaceous-buff or cream-color above and white beneath. The head and neck is described by Waterton as follows: “The throat and back of the neck are of a fine lemon-color; both sides of the neck, from the ears downward, of a rich scarlet; beneath the corrugated part there is a white spot. The crown of the head is scarlet, betwixt the lower mandible and the eye, and close by the ear there is a part which has a very fine silvery blue appearance. Just above the white spot a portion of the skin is blue and the rest scarlet; the skin which jets out behind the neck, and appears like an oblong car-uncle, is blue in part and in part orange. The bill is orange and black, the carbuncles on the forehead orange, the core orange, the orbits scarlet, and the irides white.”
The King Vulture is a bird of the forests, being found in the deep swamps, margins of stagnant marshes, and along the wooded banks of rivers, and is at all times a rare bird. It feeds on carrion and other food, such as young animals, after the manner of its larger relative. Much uncertainty appears to exist regarding its nesting habits. By some it is said to deposit the eggs in hollow trees and by others to build a large nest in tall trees; the eggs, however, appear to be two, and are white and unspotted.