The genus Cathartes (Greek for "purifier") includes medium-sized to large carrion-feeding birds in the New World vulture (Cathartidae) family. There are 3 species currently classified in this genus. Cathartes vultures occur widely in the Americas.
While all species obtain a majority of their diet by scavenging, the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is known to hunt live prey in wetland environments.
All Cathartes species have featherless heads with brightly colored skin (yellow to orange in the yellow-headed vultures, bright red in the Turkey Vulture).
Cathartes is the only genus in its family which is not monotypic.
The exact taxonomic placement of this genus and the remaining species of New World Vultures remains unclear. Though both are similar in appearance and have similar ecological roles, the New World and Old World Vultures evolved from different ancestors in different parts of the world. Just how different the two are is currently under debate, with some earlier authorities suggesting that the New World vultures are more closely related to storks. More recent authorities maintain their overall position in the order Falconiformes along with the Old World Vultures or place them in their own order, Cathartiformes. The South American Classification Committee has removed the New World Vultures from Ciconiiformes and instead placed them in Incertae sedis, but notes that a move to Falconiformes or Cathartiformes is possible.