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Cathartidae (1 Viewer)

Peter Kovalik

Well-known member
Marcella M. Tagliarini, Patricia C.M.O'Brien, Malcolm A. Ferguson-Smith and Edivaldo H.C. de Oliveira, 2011. Maintenance of syntenic groups between Cathartidae and Gallus gallus indicates symplesiomorphic karyotypes in new world vultures. Genetics and Molecular Biology, 34, 1, 80-83 (2011).
Similarities between New World and Old World vultures have been interpreted to reflect a close relationship and to suggest the inclusion of both in Accipitridae (Falconiformes). However, deeper analyses indicated that the placement of the New World vultures (cathartids) in this Order is uncertain. Chromosome analysis has shown that cathartids retained a karyotype similar to the putative avian ancestor. In order to verify the occurrence of intrachromosomal rearrangements in cathartids, we hybridized whole chromosome probes of two species (Gallus gallus and Leucopternis albicollis) onto metaphases of Cathartes aura. The results showed that not only were the syntenic groups conserved between Gallus and C. aura, but probably also the general gene order, suggesting that New World vultures share chromosomal symplesiomorphies with most bird lineages.
PDF here
Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 129(1):66-75. 2016
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2988/0006-324X-129.Q2.66
Head color and caruncles of sympatric Cathartes vultures (Aves: Cathartidae) in Guyana and their possible function in intra- and interspecific signaling
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Gary R. Graves

Department of Vertebrate Zoology, MRC-116, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012 U.S.A., and Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, DK-2100, Copenhagen Ø, Denmark, [email protected]

The naked heads of Cathartes vultures are widely believed to be adaptations for temperature regulation and to reduce plumage fouling during carrion feeding. Bright head color and the elaborate pattern of caruncles on the head and neck skin have a likely function in intra- and interspecific signaling. These integumentary characters have been difficult to study because of extensive postmortem color fading and shrinkage in museum specimens. Here I provide the first detailed description of head color and caruncles of the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (C. melambrotus) from freshly collected specimens and provide comparative notes on sympatric populations of the Turkey Vulture (C. aura) and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (C. burrovianus) from Guyana.

Conflict between IOC and protologue for Cathartes aura meridionalis:

Protologue (Swann, 1921):
W. South America

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura (Linnaeus, 1758) NA, LA : widespread
C. a. meridionalis Swann, 1921 w North America

Seems IOC need to correct their subspecies range notes!
Cathartes aura meridionalis

Conflict between IOC and protologue for Cathartes aura meridionalis...
Other treatments...
  • Kirk & Mossman 1998 (BNA Online):
    C. a. meridionalis Swann, 1921. Breeds in w. North America east to s. Manitoba and s.-central Texas; many winter in Central and South America, as far south as s. Brazil and Paraguay, but some birds in southern parts of breeding range remain throughout year. The name C. a. teter Friedmann is considered a synonym. This race is smaller than septentrionalis (wing length 487–535 mm; tail length about as in septentrionalis); edging on lesser wing-coverts, and distal edges and tips of secondaries, are browner. Wing-coverts can fade in late summer in arid regions, suggesting septentrionalis (but those of meridionalis are still browner). Facial papillae are present eastward, but absent in western portion of range (see, e.g., plates in Ferrara 1987 and MacRae 1994 for West Coast versus Kivlin 1988 for Wisconsin). Intergrades with septentrionalis across a band from Michigan to Minnesota in North to e. Texas in South. Measurements and facial pattern of local breeders in s. Wisconsin are closest to those of septentrionalis, but migration pattern resembles that of meridionalis (MJM).
  • Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001 (Raptors of the World): southern Canada and northern and central USA, ...

  • Dickinson & Remsen 2013 (H&M4 1):
    W North America ...
    For recognition see Blake (1977).
    Blake, E.R., 1977. Manual of Neotropical Birds. 1: i‐l, 1‐674. – University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Houston et al 2015 (HBW Alive): synonym of nominate aura.

  • eBird/Clements: synonym of nominate aura.
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Yep, IOC is following Kirk & Mossman 1998; but they in turn are in contradiction to Swann's type location of Colombia. I find it hard to believe they didn't read Swann's protologue, so how else do they get North America for it? Is it possible that Swann's type could have turned out to be a northern bird wintering in Colombia?
The ref to see may be Blake 1977. (Previewable on Google Books, but the critical page [266] is not part of the preview.)
The type from Santa Marta (declared as "Colombia" by Swann), at the British Museum, was examined by Hellmayr & Conover 1949 who commented that it was not satisfactorily distinguishable from Mexican specimens.
There might indeed be reasons to deem it a bird from a northern population.
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The ref to see may be Blake 1977. (Previewable on Google Books, but the critical page [266] is not part of the preview.)

Here's Blake's complete entry on the Turkey Vulture.


  • Turkey Vulture (from Blake 1977, Manual of Neotropical Birds, Volume 1).pdf
    487.9 KB · Views: 177
IOC World Bird List

Conflict between IOC and protologue for Cathartes aura meridionalis...
David Donsker, 9 May 2016:
RE: Cathartes aura meridionalis
Hi Richard,
Just to clarify the association of C. a. meridionalis with the western North American birds. This is based on Wetmore’s revision of Cathartes aura in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 146. No. 6, p4. Wetmore determined that Swann’s specimen from the Santa Marta range of Colombia was a western North American migrant.
See this link.
California Condor

Jesse D'Elia, Susan M. Haig, Thomas D. Mullins and Mark P. Miller. Ancient DNA reveals substantial genetic diversity in the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) prior to a population bottleneck. The Condor, Volume 118, Issue 4 (November 2016) pp. 703–714.

Robinson, J.A., R.C.K. Bowie, O. Dudchenko, E.L. Aiden, S.L. Hendrickson, C.C. Steiner, O.A. Ryder, D.P. Mindell, and J.D. Wall (2021)
Genome-wide diversity in the California condor tracks its prehistoric abundance and decline
Current Biology (advance online publication)
doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.04.035

Due to their small population sizes, threatened and endangered species frequently suffer from a lack of genetic diversity, potentially leading to inbreeding depression and reduced adaptability. During the latter half of the twentieth century, North America’s largest soaring bird, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus; Critically Endangered), briefly went extinct in the wild. Though condors once ranged throughout North America, by 1982 only 22 individuals remained. Following decades of captive breeding and release efforts, there are now >300 free-flying wild condors and ∼200 in captivity. The condor’s recent near-extinction from lead poisoning, poaching, and loss of habitat is well documented, but much about its history remains obscure. To fill this gap and aid future management of the species, we produced a high-quality chromosome-length genome assembly for the California condor and analyzed its genome-wide diversity. For comparison, we also examined the genomes of two close relatives: the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus; Vulnerable) and the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura; Least Concern). The genomes of all three species show evidence of historic population declines. Interestingly, the California condor genome retains a high degree of variation, which our analyses reveal is a legacy of its historically high abundance. Correlations between genome-wide diversity and recombination rate further suggest a history of purifying selection against linked deleterious alleles, boding well for future restoration. We show how both long-term evolutionary forces and recent inbreeding have shaped the genome of the California condor, and provide crucial genomic resources to enable future research and conservation.
De Panis, D., S.A. Lambertucci, G. Wiemeyer, H. Dopazo, F.C. Almeida, C.J. Mazzoni, M. Gut, I. Gut, and J. Padró (2021)
Mitogenomic analysis of extant condor species provides insight into the molecular evolution of vultures
Scientific Reports 11: 17109
doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-96080-6

The evolution of large vultures linked to mountainous habitats was accompanied by extreme physiological and behavioral specializations for energetically efficient flights. However, little is known on the genetic traits associated with the evolution of these obligate soaring scavengers. Mitochondrial DNA plays a vital role in regulating oxidative stress and energy production, and hence may be an important target of selection for flight performance. Herein, we characterized the first mitogenomes of the Andean and California condors, the world’s heaviest flying birds and the only living representatives of the Vultur and Gymnogyps genus. We reconstructed the phylogenetic relationships and evaluated possible footprints of convergent evolution associated to the life-history traits and distributional range of vultures. Our phylogenomic analyses supported the independent evolution of vultures, with the origin of Cathartidae in the early Paleogene (~ 61 Mya), and estimated the radiation of extant condors during the late Miocene (~ 11 Mya). Selection analyses indicated that vultures exhibit signals of relaxation of purifying selection relative to other accipitrimorph raptors, possibly indicating the degeneration of flapping flight ability. Overall, our results suggest that the extreme specialization of vultures for efficient soaring flight has compensated the evolution of large body sizes mitigating the selection pressure on mtDNA.
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