Cathartes

Cathartes

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The genus Cathartes includes medium-sized to large carrion-feeding
Scavenger
Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by...

 birds in the New World vulture
New World vulture
The New World Vulture or Condor family Cathartidae contains seven species in fivegenera, all but one of which are monotypic. It includes five vultures and two condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas....

 (Cathartidae) family. The three species currently classified in this genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 occur widely in the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

.

Description


All Cathartes species have featherless heads with brightly colored skin, yellow to orange in the yellow-headed vultures, bright red in the Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture
The Turkey Vulture is a bird found throughout most of the Americas. It is also known in some North American regions as the Turkey Buzzard , and in some areas of the Caribbean as the John Crow or Carrion Crow...

. All three species share a well-developed sense of smell, which is rare in birds, that enables them to locate carrion under the canopy.

Diet


While all species obtain most of their diet by scavenging, the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is known to hunt live prey in wetland environments.

Systematics


Cathartes is one of the five genera of New World Vulture
New World vulture
The New World Vulture or Condor family Cathartidae contains seven species in fivegenera, all but one of which are monotypic. It includes five vultures and two condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas....

s. The taxonomic placement of these vultures remains unclear. Cathartes is the Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 word for "purifier", and it is the only genus in its family that is not monotypic
Monotypic
In biology, a monotypic taxon is a taxonomic group with only one biological type. The term's usage differs slightly between botany and zoology. The term monotypic has a separate use in conservation biology, monotypic habitat, regarding species habitat conversion eliminating biodiversity and...

. The New World and Old World Vultures are similar in appearance and have similar ecological roles
Ecological niche
In ecology, a niche is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other; e.g. a dolphin could potentially be in another ecological niche from one that travels in a different pod if the members of these pods utilize significantly different food...

, but evolved from different ancestors in widely separated parts of the world. The relationships between the two vulture groups is a matter of debate, with some earlier authorities suggesting that the New World vultures are more closely related to storks.

In 2007 the American Ornithologists' Union
American Ornithologists' Union
The American Ornithologists' Union is an ornithological organization in the USA. Unlike the National Audubon Society, its members are primarily professional ornithologists rather than amateur birders...

's North American checklist moved Cathartidae back into the lead position in Falconiformes
Falconiformes
The order Falconiformes is a group of about 290 species of birds that comprises the diurnal birds of prey. Raptor classification is difficult and the order is treated in several ways.- Classification problems :...

, but with an asterisk that indicates it is a taxon "that is probably misplaced in the current phylogenetic listing but for which data indicating proper placement are not yet available". The AOU's draft South American checklist places the Cathartidae in their own order, Cathartiformes. However, recent DNA study on the evolutionary relationships between bird groups also suggests that they are related to the other birds of prey and should be part of a new order Accipitriformes
Accipitriformes
The Accipitriformes is an order that has been proposed to include most of the diurnal birds of prey: hawks, eagles, vultures, and many others, about 225 species in all. For a long time, the majority view has been to include them with the falcons in the Falconiformes, but some authorities have...

 instead, a position adopted in 2010 by the AOU's North American check-list, and shared with the International Ornithological Congress
International Ornithological Congress
The International Ornithological Congress series forms the oldest and largest international series of meetings of ornithologists. It is organised by the International Ornithological Committee, a group of about 200 ornithologists...

.

Species



The genus Cathartes has 3 recognized species:
  • Turkey Vulture
    Turkey Vulture
    The Turkey Vulture is a bird found throughout most of the Americas. It is also known in some North American regions as the Turkey Buzzard , and in some areas of the Caribbean as the John Crow or Carrion Crow...

     Cathartes aura
  • Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
    Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
    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...

     C. burrovianus
  • Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
    Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
    The Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes melambrotus, also known as the Forest Vulture, is a species of bird in the New World Vulture family Cathartidae. It was considered to be the same species as the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture until they were split in 1964. It is found in South America in...

     C. melambrotus

The first member of this genus to be formally described, the Turkey Vulture, was named by Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus , also known after his ennoblement as , was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology...

 as Vultur aura in his Systema Naturae
Systema Naturae
The book was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. The first edition was published in 1735...

in 1758, but was eventually moved to the current genus which had been created by German zoologist Johann Illiger
Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger
Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger was a German entomologist and zoologist.Illiger was the son of a merchant in Brunswick. He studied under the entomologist Johann Hellwig, and later worked on the zoological collections of Johann Centurius Hoffmannsegg...

 in 1811. The yellow-headed birds first described in 1845 by John Cassin
John Cassin
John Cassin was an American ornithologist.He is considered to be one of the giants of American ornithology, and was America's first taxonomist, describing 198 birds not previously mentioned by Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon...

were not split into two species until 1964.