25 March 2013

Painted Vulture a Former American Species

Particular rationale to add a species of extinct bird to the avifauna of North America, have been recently issued. An article, "Validity of Bartram's Painted Vulture" as written by Noel F.R. Snyder and Joel T. Fry, was published earlier this year in the journal Zootaxa, volume 3613, issue 1.

It is a splendid effort of investigation, that considers original sources which convey ornithological history, and all of the other appropriate nuances necessary to convey to scholars and skeptics.

The Painted Vulture (Vultur sacra) is certainly an enigma. There is essentially only the report by William Bartram. And, the report by Eleazar Albin, from fifty years earlier for a captive vulture in England during the 1730s, with distinctions that conform to the same sort of bird. Its provenance is not certain.

There was enough evidence to entice Snyder to take a closer look.

"I was puzzled about the response to Bartram's report," Snyder said. He looked into the accounts more-in-depth, and found the topic "more interesting than anticipated. There was no reason to question the accuracy" of this report. "The history of how ornithology has treated Bartram's report is very curious," Snyder said. "His report was originally accepted as valid by ornithologists, but this acceptance disappeared in most accounts of the late 19th and 20th centuries."

The article indicates details sufficient for scientific recognition of this species.

Ancillary material discussed includes an original portrait by Bartram of Mico Chlucco, the Long Warrior or King of the Muscogulges, shown holding a "royal standard" comprised of feathers of the Painted Vulture. A limestone bowl from central Alabama has a handle suggested as representing either the King or Painted Vulture.

Snyder hopes that this species gets recognized as a valid species as once present in North America.

Whether the American Ornithologists' Union and ornithologists worldwide, such as the International Ornithologial Council, will agree with this perspective, remains to be seen.

"Failing to recognize Bartram’s Vulture as a taxonomically distinct former resident of Florida would be to
ignore the probable existence of one of the most interesting birds in the historic avifauna of our country, to say
nothing of perpetuating a sorry history of unconvincing criticism of both Eleazar Albin and William Bartram." - Snyder and Fry, 2013 in the Zootaxa article

Snyder has written about other species formerly present in northern America, with a book done about the Carolina Parakeet (The Carolina Parakeet: Glimpses Of A Vanished Bird), as well as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Imperial Woodpecker (The Travails of Two Woodpeckers), to mention two examples, and has coauthored other books on endangered birds with his wife Helen.

Dr. Snyder is currently retired and living in Arizona.

There is an online abstract available for the article about the Painted Vulture.