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Extinct Subspecies A famous bird, subject of a thorough study by Gross (1928), once distributed along the coastal zone of eastern North America in grassy plains mixed with patches of oak-scrub. It ranged from New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania south to Virginia, or perhaps even from Maine to the Carolinas. Extinct already on the mainland in the 1840s due to habitat changes and excessive hunting (with unconfirmed reports up to the 1860s). Survived for almost a century on the island Martha's Vineyard off SE Massachusetts. By 1890, 120-200 birds were still present there, but continued hunting, fires, introduced foxes, feral cats, and collectioning for museums (mostly by C.E. Hoyle in 1870-1900) caused a gradual decline. The establishment of a reserve in 1907 resulted in a major upsurge of the numbers, but reduced viability, excessive interbreeding, unidentified diseases, and an excess of males reduced the population to 15-30 birds by 1927. Despite optimal protection and the fairly large numbers in about 1920, the last bird died in 1932. Just over 200 skins and mounts is all what now remains in zoological collections. Its relative Greater Prairie Chicken T. c. pinnatus survives locally on the central Great Plains, while a 3rd subspecies, attwateri, occurs in small numbers in the coastal prairies of E Mexico and (formerly) neighbouring SW Louisiana; both were listed as Vulnerable to extinction recently.
Items in the ZMA - 2 (or 3?) birds:
ZMA 55805-55806 Male & female, undated [1860-1880], no locality, 'Tetrao cupido 2' & 'Tetrao cupido 1', old former mounts, both in freshly-moulted plumage.
Without properly identified specimens available for comparison, identification of our birds is not fully certain, but they largely agree with the descriptions as given in Gross (1928) and Ridgway & Friedmann (1946). Both birds are dark with broad black barring on the underparts; the female has 7-8 mm of the tips of the scapulars white, but these tips are absent in the male; the latter has scapulars with a narrow black terminal fringe and a c. 3 mm broad dark cinnnamon-rufous subterminal bar. The scapular pattern of the male is perhaps not diagnostic, but correct for its identification as Heath Hen are the c. 5 lanceolate feathers which form the black part of the neck-tuft. These are somewhat wider in the middle and taper towards the narrowly rounded tip. The black bars on the breast and flanks are 4-5 mm wide in both sexes, those on the belly 3-4 mm; the male shows an extensive dark rufous wash subterminally on the crop feathers. The tarsi are feathered to the base (unlike ssp. attwateri).
The ZMA has one other specimen of T. cupido, which is hard to identify:
ZMA 55807, male, coll. Museum of the Den Haag [The Hague] Zoo, ex Museum 'Natura' [Utrecht], obtained by the ZMA in the 1980s; dismounted by 'Natura', no original data present, but an attached label shows the year 1890, probably the date on which it entered or left the Museum of the Den Haag Zoo and copied from the stand of the bird. This bird appears paler than both previous ones, but is in heavily worn plumage with the rufous bars bleached; the scapulars have white tips c. 8 mm wide (as nominate cupido should have), the bars on breast and flanks are 4-6 mm wide and those on the belly 4-5 mm (as in nominate cupido); the neck-tuft has c. 5-6 black feathers (as in nominate cupido), which are widest near the tip and end truncated (a character of ssp. pinnatus). The wings of the ZMA birds are (in the sequence as listed above) 222 (male), 218 (female), and 226 mm (male). For comparison: the wing of skins of male nominate cupido is reported to be 222.2 (215-225), of female 209.2 (201-219), of male pinnatus 236.6 (232-245), of female 224.6 (213-232) (Gross 1928).
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