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Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Photo Information
Copyright: Peter van Zoest (PeterZ) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5137 W: 166 N: 13121] (49139)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2013-09-20
Categories: Birds
Camera: Nikon D90, Sigma 135-400mm f/4.5-5.6 APO, Digital RAW
Exposure: f/6.3, 1/2500 seconds
Details: Tripod: Yes
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Date Submitted: 2014-01-23 7:53
Viewed: 1900
Points: 32
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
This is the first photo of a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture on TN taken in the wild. I’ve found only one photo, a portrait, of this species taken in the zoo of Rotterdam in 2006.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus) also known as the Savannah Vulture, is a species of bird in the New World Vulture family Cathartidae. It was considered to be the same species as the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture until they were split in 1964. It is found in Mexico, Central America, and South America in seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, swamps, and heavily degraded former forest. It is a large bird, with a wingspan of 150–165 centimeters. The body plumage is black, and the head and neck, which are featherless, are pale orange with red or blue areas. It lacks a syrinx, so therefore its vocalizations are limited to grunts or low hisses.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture feeds on carrion and locates carcasses by sight and by smell, an ability which is rare in birds. It is dependent on larger vultures, such as the King Vulture, to open the hides of larger animal carcasses as its bill is not strong enough to do this. Like other New World Vultures, the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture utilizes thermals to stay aloft with minimal effort. It lays its eggs on flat surfaces, such as the floors of caves, or in the hollows of stumps. It feeds its young by regurgitation.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is 53–66 cm in length, with a wingspan of 150–165 cm and a tail length of 19–24 cm. Its weight ranges from 0.95 to 1.55 kg. Its plumage is black with a green sheen. The throat and the sides of the head are featherless. The head and neck are bare of feathers, and the skin is yellow, with a reddish forehead and nape and a gray-blue crown. The irises of its eyes are red, its legs are white, and its beak is flesh-colored. The eye has a single incomplete row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower lid. The tail is rounded and relatively short for a vulture; the tip of the closed wing extends beyond the tail. Immature Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures have browner plumage, a dusky head, and a white nape.
The beak is thick, rounded, and hooked at the tip. The front toes are long with small webs at their bases and are not adapted to grasping. The opening of the nostril is longitudinal, and the nostrils lack aseptum. Like all New World Vultures, the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture lacks a syrinx, and is therefore unable to make any sound other than a low hiss.

Distribution and habitat
It is found in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname,Uruguay, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, swamps, mangroves, and heavily degraded former forest. It may wander over dry fields and clearings. It is not generally found in high-altitude regions.

This bird with its somehow crow-like aspect gave foot to the naming of the Quebrada de los Cuervos (Crows Ravine) in Uruguay, where they dwell together with the black vulture and the turkey vulture.

Ecology and behavior
The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture flies solitarily, with wings held in a dihedral position. It glides at a low altitude over wetlands while locating food, and perches on fence posts or on other low perches. When flying, it travels alone and is rarely found in groups. The flight of the lesser Yellow-Headed is an example of static soaring flight, which uses thermals to maintain altitude without the need to flap its wings. This vulture rarely soars high in the air, preferring low altitudes. This bird is believed to be somewhat migratory in response to the changes in water level where it lives. The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, like other New World Vultures, has the unusual habit of urohidrosis, in which it urinates or defecates on its legs to cool them by evaporation.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is a scavenger and subsists almost entirely on carrion. It will eat roadkill or the carcass of any animal, but is also known to hunt for food, especially small aquatic animals in marshes. It prefers fresh meat, but often cannot make the first cut into the carcass of a larger animal because its beak is not strong enough to tear into the tough hide. The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture will no longer feed on a piece of carrion once the meat is in a state of extreme decay, as it becomes contaminated with microbial toxins. Like other vultures, it plays an important role in its ecosystem by disposing of carrion which would otherwise be a breeding ground for disease.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture forages using its keen eyesight to locate carrion on the ground, but also uses its sense of smell, an ability which is uncommon in the avian world. It locates carrion by detecting the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. The olfactory lobe of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large compared to other animals. This characteristic of New World Vultures has been used by humans: ethyl mercaptan is injected into pipelines, and engineers looking for leaks then follow the foraging vultures.

King Vultures, which lack the ability to smell carrion, follow the Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures to carcasses, where the King Vulture tears open the skin of the dead animal. This allows the smaller Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture access to food, as it does not have a bill strong enough to tear the hide of larger animals. This is an example of mutual dependence between species. It is generally displaced from carcasses by both Turkey Vultures and King Vultures, due to their larger size.

Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures do not build nests, but rather lay eggs on the ground, cliff ledges, the floors of caves, or in the hollow of a tree. Eggs are cream colored and heavily blotched with brown and gray spots, particularly around the larger end. Two eggs are generally laid. The chicks are altricial—they are blind, naked and relatively immobile upon hatching. The chicks do not grow their down feathers until later. The parents feed their young by regurgitating pre-digested food into their beak, where the chicks then drink it. Young fledge after two to three months.

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is a bird of Least Concern according to the IUCN, with an estimated global range of 7,800,000 square kilometers and a population of between 100,000 and 1,000,000 individuals. Its population trend appears to be stable.

Source: Parts of Wikipedia

Miss_Piggy, maaciejka, CeltickRanger, Hotelcalifornia, kinglove, Chiza, anel has marked this note useful
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ThreadThread Starter Messages Updated
To Chiza: Lesser Yellow-headed VulturePeterZ 1 01-24 10:58
To euroblinkie: rustigPeterZ 1 01-23 08:03
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Critiques [Translate]

hallo Peter
super mooie foto van deze gier met prachtige kleuren op zijn kop
scherpte en compositie is ook erg goed
gr lou

ps Erg rustig is het op TN

Hi Peter,
interesting bird. Excellent point of view. Perfect sharpness. Amazing colours.
Thanks for sharing,

  • Great 
  • iti Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 577 W: 0 N: 650] (7939)
  • [2014-01-23 9:00]

Hi Peter,
Perfect shot of this interesting vulture. Amazing colors
and fantastic details with nice composition.
Regards Jiri.

Ciao Peter, great capture of fantastic vulture, splendid light, excellent sharpness, fine details and wonderful colors, very well done my friend, ciao Silvio

Hello Peter

Great photo of the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, fine POV,
the way with the tree branch being framed diagonally it gives
dynamism to the image, beautiful light, and catch-light,
excellent focus, sharpness, and details, TFS


Hello Mr.Peter,
Congratulation for capturing such species in wild.
Beautiful colour and light with good details.NOTE is really essential to know this species.
Thanks for sharing with very good NOTE,
Regards and have a nice time,

  • Great 
  • lousat Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6595 W: 89 N: 15659] (65489)
  • [2014-01-23 14:09]

Hi Peter,very interesting specie,different to the pink one that i caught in Gambia,an excellent capture with the best details on the right place,to show us the qualities of this vulture,i like it! Have a nice day and thanks,Luciano

hallo Peter
照的清晰 很漂亮也很大隻的一隻秃鷹
它的羽毛顏色麗 很新奇
光線亮麗 構圖美麗 背景深遂

Hello Peter,
A well taken picture of Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture .
Superb sharpness and colour .
Good blue sky BG,
Best wishes,

Amazing bird and fantastic pose Peter! GREAT photo! Excellent composition, wonderful colours and very good sharpness!

  • Great 
  • foozi Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 2791 W: 0 N: 6696] (25839)
  • [2014-01-23 23:26]

Hello Peter
another smashing shot and a stunning capture of this vulture. Splendid details and your composition of the tree branch is so lively.
Excellent work.


  • Great 
  • nagraj Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1618 W: 106 N: 3208] (15166)
  • [2014-01-24 5:40]

Beautiful bird, though its vulture, good composition and background. tfs.

  • Great 
  • Chiza Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 133 W: 0 N: 474] (5351)
  • [2014-01-24 10:41]
  • [+]

Hola Peter, que bella especie, una de mis favoritas que estuve buscando por varios años...hace varios meses subi en TN una foto de esta especie en estado silvestre


Hermosa foto de un adulto muy bien lograda y lo felicito por ese bello registro...saludos.

Ciao Peter. Details and sharp very good against the soft blue BG. Great POV.


  • Great 
  • anel Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 3053 W: 3 N: 8715] (40574)
  • [2014-01-26 6:32]

Hello Peter,
Even if for once the sharpness is not at the top, you can be proud of this seldom shot. An interesting bird, for sure not easy to localize and to take pictures from.
Good composition and interesting note too.
Thanks a lot.

  • Great 
  • waylim Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 296 W: 8 N: 489] (1765)
  • [2014-01-26 17:02]

Hi Peter,

A good shot of the vulture, not the prettiest looking bird, but a very good quality and pretty picture. You make the vulture look good :)

Excellent quality, good composition and natural colors.


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