Solitary, n. (F. Solitaire)

1. A Wiccan who practices alone rather than as a member of a coven or group.

2. (Also solitaire, solitare) A group of flightless birds of family Alcidae, of the Mascarene Islands near Madagascar, Pezophaps solitaria from Rodriguez and Raphus Solitarius from Réunion, extinct by 1800.

The best extant account of a solitary comes from the journals of François Leguat, a French Huguenot who was castaway on Rodriguez for two years starting in 1698. His account is as follows:

"Of all the birds in the island, the most remarkable is that which goes by the name of Solitary, tho' there are an abundance of them. The Feathers of the Males are of a brown grey Colour: the Feet and Beak are like a Turkey's, but a little more crooked. They have scarce any Tail, but their Hindpart covered with Feathers is roundish, like the Crupper of a Horse; they are taller than Turkeys . . . The Bone of their Wing grows greater than the Extremity, and forms a little round Mass under the Feathers, as big as a Musket Ball. That and its Beak are the chief Defense of this Bird. 'Tis very hard to catch it in the Woods, but easie in open Places, because we run faster than they . . . Some of the Males weigh forty-five Pounds." He also reported that the males were brown and the females either brown or blonde, and had a "head-band, like the head-band of widows, high upon their beak."

There is evidence that at least one Rodriguez solitary was in London, around 1638. The last Rodriguez solitaries were seen in 1761, when the astronomer Abbé Pingré was there to observe a transit of Venus across the sun. This observation resulted in the naming of a very minor constellation between Libra, Scorpio, and Draco after the Rodriguez Solitary. Partial skeletons of this bird have been excavated on Rodriguez, and there are several extant depictions from life.

The Réunion solitary is a slightly harder case. There appears to be some controversy as to whether or not this bird was distinct from the White Dodo of Réunion. There are, however, accounts of solitaires that do not match descriptions of the White Dodo. Sieur Dubois, in 1669, had this to say about Solitaires: "These birds are so called because they always go alone. They are as big as a large goose and have white plumage with the tips of wings and tail black. The tail feathers are like those of an ostrich, they have a long neck, and the beak is like that of the Woodcock, but larger; the legs and feet are like those of a turkey." The solitaire seems to have been more numerous than the Dodo, and there are several depictions more like Rodriguez solitaries except with fluffy tail feathers. However, many scientists maintain that there was only one bird on Réunion, which went through a moult which confused observers. Admittedly there are no accounts of the Réunion solitaries and dodos together, and apparently no remains have been found to make the distiction. When both birds are grouped together they are given the scientific name of the solitary, Raphus Solitarius. When the distinction is made the white dodo is named by the old name Victoriornus Imperialus. Both were extinct by 1800.

(The main source of this write-up was the 1969 article "Other islands, other dodos" by Willy Ley, although I verified facts through other sources. I was unable find any good more recent sources, so it's entirely possible that there have been later developments. However several hours spent Googling seemed to imply that the same state of affairs still prevails. Regardless of the Webster 1913 entry over at solitaire, I have never seen a Mauritius solitaire mentioned.)