Vultures are known as large scavenging birds found on all continents except for Australia and Antarctica.
There are two main groups; Old World and New World vultures, known for feeding almost exclusively on animal carcasses.
In today’s article, we’ll be comparing 18 types of vulture species.
Old World Vultures:
- Bearded Vultures
- Egyptian Vultures
- Cinereous Vultures
- Griffon Vultures
- Red-headed Vultures
- White-rumped Vultures
- Indian Vultures
- White-backed Vultures
- Cape Vultures
- Lappet-faced Vultures
- White-headed Vultures
New World Vultures:
- Black Vultures
- Turkey Vultures
- Greater Yellow-headed Vultures
- Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures
- California Condors
- Andean Condors
- King Vultures
Note: The vultures are ranked in no particular order.
1. Bearded Vultures
Scientific name: Gypaetus barbatus
This bird is the closest living relative of the Egyptian vulture. It is often found in parts of southern Europe, central and southwestern Asia, the Indian subcontinent, as well as pockets around Africa.
Bearded vultures are very large – their wingspan can grow longer than 9 feet. They fly at great heights, prowling for prey.
More than 90% of its diet consists of mammal carrion, and the largest part of what they eat is bone marrow – not meat.
They’re the only bird species with a bone marrow specialization, proving that nature really does find a way of using up every last bit of remains.
These types of vultures in Turkey can bite through bones, but they also crack them by dropping them from great heights.
2. Egyptian Vultures
Scientific name: Neophron percnopterus
Also known as the pharaoh’s chicken, the Egyptian vulture is common across southern Europe, northern Africa, and parts of southwestern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula.
They’re normally white, while their wings have some black feathers. Because of their white plumage, they get dirty easily and are often thought to be brown, although that’s most likely dirt.
In the wild, these types of vultures in Egypt are often seen in pairs or alone – large flocks are rarely formed.
They scavenge and obtain food in pairs too.
3. Cinereous Vultures
Scientific name: Aegypius monachus
Also known as the black vulture (not to be confused with the actual black vulture, Coragyps atratus), these birds with a 10-foot wingspan occupy a very wide range from South Korea all the way to India in southern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula in the west. An isolated population exists in southwestern Europe.
These types of vultures in Europe are a solitary species – they’ll only congregate in groups when carrion is found. They mostly feed on mammals, although fish and reptiles are also eaten.
4. Griffon Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps fulvus
With a distribution very similar to cinereous vultures, although griffon vultures aren’t found more eastern than India, these vultures are a common species in their respective environments.
There, they often congregate in flocks to find food, while they also establish nesting colonies on cliffs. Griffon vultures can live up to 40 years before becoming prey themselves.
5. Red-headed Vultures
Scientific name: Sarcogyps calvus
As the name suggests, this threatened species of vultures has a distinctly red head. It’s also known under the name ‘Asian king vulture’, as it’s mainly found on the Indian subcontinent.
Their population there is, unfortunately, declining. This happened very recently and through the use of diclofenac in veterinary medicine, which is a poisonous compound to vultures.
At the time of use, it was not known that vultures had any reaction to the compounds.
These types of vultures in India would ingest the compound by eating dead livestock that had it administered.
6. White-rumped Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps bengalensis
Just like the red-headed vultures, white-rumped vultures are a victim of diclofenac poisoning. Because of this, their population in Asia has declined from millions of individuals (in the 1980s) to less than 6,000 individuals today.
They can reach almost 9 feet in wingspan and they have a very recognizable pattern on the underside. Seen in flight, adults have a white lining on the underside of their black wings.
7. Indian Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps indicus
This species is found exclusively in India and their numbers there are declining due to diclofenac poisoning. The remaining populations mostly breed on cliffs in western, central, and southern India.
To feed, they often form flocks and look for carcasses together, mostly feeding on mammals. Indian vultures have distinctly black necks and heads, while their wings and backs are mostly brown and grey.
Similar to white-rumped vultures, these vultures also have a white pattern on the underside of the wings, albeit it is less obvious.
8. White-backed Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps africanus
As the name suggests, these vultures have a distinctly white back on top of their brown wings. Their necks have a white ruff, but the juveniles are mostly dark and they only develop the white coloring as adults.
They’re mostly found in Africa, specifically in Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and parts of southern Africa. Out of all types of vultures in Africa, these vultures have the widest range.
However, they’re not as nearly as common in this range as some people believe. They’re considered endangered because of loss of habitat, often caused by fires.
They’re highly specialized when it comes to their diet, mostly feeding on large ungulates, as well as ostriches. White-backed vultures are highly social, foraging and feeding together.
9. Cape Vultures
Scientific name: Gyps coprotheres
Endemic to southern Africa, these vultures are a vulnerable species, threatened by the lack of carrion in their habitats, as well as the use of diclofenac on livestock.
They can weigh up to 20 pounds, making them some of the largest raptors in Africa, while their wingspan is almost 9 feet wide. This makes them the third largest Old World vulture.
10. Lappet-faced Vultures
Scientific name: Torgos tracheliotos
A species native to Africa, they’re found in southern, eastern, central, and western Africa, as well as the Iberian Peninsula.
Their wingspan can be as wide as 9.5 feet and they’re recognized by their distinctly pink head. The feathers on the neck are thin.
Their baldness is an evolutionary advantage – they often push their entire heads into carcasses when eating.
Since they’re bald, they don’t have a lot of blood and guts sticking to their head. This makes it easy to stay clean and they don’t attract other predators.
11. White-headed Vultures
Scientific name: Trigonoceps occipitalis
Mostly located in sub-Saharan Africa, the population of these vultures is steadily declining because of a lack of available prey. The spreading of urban and agricultural habitats is the most likely reason behind it.
White-headed vultures are also loyal to a specific area and are unlikely to move unless they’re forced out. They’re a solitary species that live in isolation, although territorial pairs can share the same territory.
They’re a low-flying species of vulture, which is a contrast to most other vultures. Because of this, they spot prey more easily and are usually the first ones to start eating. If prey is lacking, they’ll turn to predatory behavior.
12. Black Vultures
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Black vultures are a species of New World vultures found in southern and southeastern USA, Mexico, Central America, and almost the entire South American continent, barring the bottom quarter.
As the name suggests, they’re an entirely black species, with a wingspan of 5.5 feet.
These types of vultures in Texas feed mostly on carrion, but they’ll often scavenge garbage dumps when they nest near human-populated areas. They’ll even eat decomposing plant material.
13. Turkey Vultures
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
Turkey vultures are some of the northernmost vulture species – they inhabit the entire South American continent and are found as far north as Canada. Their bald red head, similar to that of the wild turkey, is the inspiration behind their name.
Although they primarily feed on carrion, they’ll sometimes eat plant materials.
Even though they aren’t predators, they’ll kill sick and dying individuals. These types of vultures in North America are often seen removing roadkill from roads, as well as feeding on washed-up fish.
14. Greater Yellow-headed Vultures
Scientific name: Cathartes melambrotus
Also known as forest vultures, these birds are found in the northern portion of South America. There, their wingspan can almost reach 6 feet and they’re easily recognizable because of their distinctly yellow heads.
Because their beaks aren’t strong, they often have trouble opening carcasses, so they’re usually not the first species to start eating an animal carcass.
The eyesight of these types of vultures in Brazil is very well developed, but so is their sense of smell, which isn’t common with birds.
15. Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures
Scientific name: Cathartes burrovianus
They inhabit most of the same territory as the greater yellow-headed vulture, but their populations are more isolated. They’re also found further up north in Central America.
Although they’re very similar to greater yellow-headed vultures, they’re smaller in every way, while their plumage is browner and the head is more orange than yellow.
Lesser yellow-headed vultures are often followed by king vultures that inhabit the same territory as that species doesn’t have the keen sense of smell.
King vultures will open the carcass, as they’re much stronger, enabling the lesser yellow-headed vulture to feed.
16. California Condors
Scientific name: Gymnogyps californianus
The habitat of California condors is very restricted – they’re only found in California and parts of Arizona. They have massive wingspans – usually up to 10 feet, although unproven reports of 11-foot wingspans exist.
These types of vultures in California are endangered because of poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction. It also takes a lot of time for them to sexually mature and they only have one young per nest.
Although rare, California condors can be recognized by their entirely black bodies and a bald head, often with yellow patches.
17. Andean Condors
Scientific name: Vultur gryphus
Andean condors are generally considered to be the largest vultures in the world. They can weigh up to 30 pounds and develop a wingspan of almost 11 feet.
As the name suggests, they’re mostly found on the western coast of South America, particularly in the Andes. They mostly feed on llamas and alpacas, although smaller carcasses are often consumed too.
Although rare, predatory behavior has been documented – they’ll sometimes kill small mammals and birds. They usually forage the area near the coast, not wandering further away than a few miles off the coast.
18. King Vultures
Scientific name: Sarcoramphus papa
These large birds from South and Central America are mostly white, while their necks and heads are completely bald. The color pattern on the head is different from bird to bird, often combining various colors; yellow, blue, red, purple, and orange.
They’re the largest species of New World vulture after the two condor species with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. It has the strongest bill out of all New World vultures, often opening up carcasses first (hence the name).
Vultures are crucial members of every habitat as they clean up the remains of dead animals, thus preventing the development of diseases. Unfortunately, many species are now threatened because of the use of veterinary medicines and habitat destruction.
These birds are separated into two groups Old World and New World vultures. Old World vultures are larger on average, although the largest vultures are Andean condors, belonging to the New World group.