Friday, March 23, 2018

King Vulture

The Laguna del Lagarto Lodge was my favorite location in Costa Rica. Anywhere with King Vultures soaring overhead vaults near to top spot! During our graduate research in Peru and Ecuador, we seldom saw King Vultures. In Ecuador we only occasionally saw them when we flew in small airplanes over undisturbed jungle.

Ornithologists argue if King Vultures were historically found in Florida. William Bartram described one from the St. John’s River in the 1770s. His painting is not quite accurate for a King Vulture, leading some to suspect it could have been simply a flight of Bartram’s imagination or a distinct subspecies. At least one other pioneering ornithologist, however, claimed to have seen this vulture, and several Native American artifacts depict what could be King Vultures (ABA Blog).

My seventh grade teacher and birding mentor, John Trott, believed that Bartram did not hallucinate his King Vulture record. He believed Bartram to be scrupulously honest. John pointed out that several Florida plant species became extinct after record freezes occurred in the region shortly after Bartram described the vulture. Perhaps the vulture, never common, met the same fate.

Update: an apparent King Vulture was photographed in Miami on 14 March 2018: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S43649624. Zoos in south Florida do keep King Vultures, so the eBird record may be an escaped bird. On the other hand, the nearest wild King Vultures to south Florida are seen in the Yucatan, not that far (as the vulture flies).

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