Northern Bald Ibis: ancient colonies

In 1557, the Swiss zoologist CONRAD GESNER described the Northern Bald Ibis as a European bird. Proof of its former occurrence exists in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain and is newly recorded for France. The species probably lived in western regions of the Balkans too. Possible records from other countries (e.g. northern Italy, Hungary, Poland) still lack reliable evidence. The colonies were located in very different habitats ranging from inaccessible gorges to cliffs in the centre of medieval cities (e.g. Salzburg, Graz). The oldest records are discoveries of fossil skeletal remains in Spain and France. Bones found in Eolithic layers in Switzerland may still be misdated, because ground-digging mammals could have placed them there long after that time.

The oldest German remains can clearly be assigned to the 4th century. Later records of the occurrence of NBI in Europe can be found in zoological treatises, regional chronicles, documents and codes of law, travel reports and even in cooking recipes as well as housekeeping books. Illustrations dating back to the same period appear in books of nature studies, missals and manuscripts. No later than the early 17th century the species disappeared from Central Europe. Hunting pressure and taking of too many young from the nests have to be considered the main causes of extinction. Some cases of detrimental habitat destruction are also reported in the literature. Besides human influence climatic changes may have precipitated the population decline.

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