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Cinereous Vulture

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Next in my series of gouache paintings for the Shanghai Natural History Museum. The cinereous vulture, Aegypius monachus, is a large bird of prey endemic to central Asia and portions of Europe, where it is currently being reintroduced. As an Old World vulture, the cinereous is only distantly related to the vultures of the Americas, which have relatively similar coloration and habits. Old World vultures are members of Accipitridae, the familiar group of birds of prey which includes the hawks, harriers, eagles and kites. New World vultures, by contrast, are their own family (Cathartidae) which includes the condors. 

This makes the cinereous vulture the largest true bird of prey in the world, with wingspans approaching 11 feet in length and with weights up to 31 pounds in the largest (female) individuals. Despite cursory similarities, Old and New World vultures are fundamentally different in a number of ways. Like other raptors, the cinereous vulture has extraordinarily good eyesight, which it uses to locate carrion (or other vultures circling it). The American vultures, by contrast, rely primarily on smell to locate meals. Old World vultures also show some of the predatory adaptations that evolution has honed to a fine point in other accipitrids: most notably remarkably strong bills and grasping taloned feet, which enable them to indulge in occasional predatory behaviors on top of scavenging. 

The cinereous is currently listed as near-threatened due to poisoning (to control predators), carrion reduction (from improving standards for hygiene on farms), trapping and hunting, and habitat destruction. Recent reintroduction efforts in Europe have resulted in a mild but hopefully improving reversal. 

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