King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)

The King Vulture is a really magnificent bird. The other three species are black in general, with different color of head and neck. The Black Vulture is commonly seen soaring around the country, but the King Vulture is not seen that often. However, when you see it, you are amazed. The juvenile is mostly black, with white underparts, while the adult is mostly white, with black wing secondaries and orange to red neck. Both have white irises, which contrasts nicely with the head colors.

It is not every day that you can see a Vulture turning into a King! This immature individual still retains black feathers from its juvenile plumage on the wings and back, however it looks as an adult for the most part.
It is said that to achieve compelling images of wildlife, one needs to take pictures at eye-level. The way the hide at Mirador El Pizote is positioned makes possible such images.
It is exciting to have the King Vulture so close, sometimes looking directly at your eyes (or your lens for that matter).
An adult also made its appearance and stood on the branch for a few minutes, all while the Black Vultures where busy eating from the carcass on the ground.
Another shot of the King at the branch, this time in horizontal framing. Its feathers look all fluffy from the wind that helped cool the ambient a bit.
A shot from the hide at Mirador El Pizote shows the King Vulture calmly walking through the grass.
Another shot from the hide at Mirador El Pizote, here most of the body is hidden from view due to the low angle.
The King Vulture sharing a carcass with one Black Vulture, surrounded by the green vegetation of the forest.
A fast action shot where the King Vulture had just taken off the branch in which it was perched seconds before.
The King posing proudly on top of a branch. It was already full after at least two hours of feasting on a carcass.
I call this picture “The King Vulture Ballet”. I leave it to the masters of the discipline to say if the posture is right, but to me it still looks graceful.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (1)
The King just made its flashy appearance. Its attire is elegant, even gorgeous.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (2)
A balancing act on a tree trunk, although vultures are very skilled at it.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (3)
This adult spread its wings slightly when changing position at the tree.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (5)
The body is essentially black and white, yet the head is very colorful.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (8)
The maw protrudes from the chest’s feathers and is very conspicuous.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (11)
The maw is concealed most of the time, but I am supposing that during hot days it helps to cool off by having it outside of the feathers.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (12)
The gaze of this magnificent bird is very determined.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (14)
Close up portrait of the head and neck.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (15)
The maw is a zone in the chest of the bird that also lacks feathers, where the skin is pink.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto (16)
A close up portrait reveals the skin that folds around much of the face, neck and even covers the nostrils.
King Vulture, Adult - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Adulto
As a scavenger, this vulture normally gets its meals from dead animals found anywhere.
King Vulture, Juvenile - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Juvenil (4)
Juvenile and adult stand together in the sun. They really look magnificent.
King Vulture, Juvenile - Sarcoramphus papa - Zopilote Rey, Rey Gallinazo, Juvenil (5)
The poise of this juvenile while walking is incredible.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

The Black Vulture is one of the most commonly seen soaring birds in Costa Rica. They glide through warm air currents, congregate in numbers on a tree during the morning while waiting for the formation of those currents. They look for dead animals through their eyes, since their smell sense is not as acute. Due to that, they sometimes follow Turkey Vultures, whose sense of smell is well more advanced. As implied by its name, they are entirely black, with their face and throat bare skinned, which together with their scavenger nature makes for a disgusting reputation. They are admired though for their ability to eat contaminated food, which has been found to be derived from strong stomach acids and resistance to bacteria toxins. This is an important trait, as it enables them to act as recyclers, eating discarded food and turning it into fertalizer for the soil.

“Ugly” is the usual word to describe a vulture, but still they are fascinating creatures. Many have wondered how do they manage to eat rotten meat and still not become sick, and thanks to many studies we are understanding the role of bacteria and other mechanisms in their digestive systems.
I thought this looked close enough to the legend on the “Headless horseman”. Birds in general have this ability that we don’t have to stretch the neck in amazing ways, specially when pruning their feathers.
Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus - Zopilote Negro (1)
The adult shows no feathers or hairs on the head, just bare skin.
Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus - Zopilote Negro (2)
Portrait of a Black Vulture. Note that this juvenile still has some hairs on the head.