Over a century ago, Theodore S. Van Dyke wrote about outdoor life in California. In this post, I present examples of what he had to say about the California condor.
Van Dyke’s 1881 novel Flirtation Camp: or, The Rifle, Rod, and Gun in California is billed as “a sporting romance”. Here is an excerpt concerning the California condor:
Far above the towering head of the mountain some dark birds were winding with outstretched, motionless wing in graceful curves through the soft blue air.
“How beautifully those eagles sail!” said Laura.
“Quite a natural mistake”, said Belville.
“What do you mean? Are they not eagles?” …
“The Californians, who love to dignify all of the productions of their native State with imposing names, call them vultures; but they are in fact buzzards differing from the common buzzard only in color and size, being the largest bird in the world next to the condor of the Andes. But of all birds that fly their motions are the most beautiful and – ”
”They are not either. I don’t like them a bit”, said Laura …
“You change your opinon suddenly. A rose by any other name should smell as sweet.”
I have not read all of Flirtation Camp so I do not know what comes of Laura and Belville.
Five years later, Van Dyke switched to non-fiction.
The California condor makes 3 appearances in this book. Here is a portion of one of these:
The condor, which is quite as often called “vulture”, is generally seen only in the high mountains, though it used often to be seen in the lowlands before their settlement… In the high thin air above the highest mountains, it spends hours with outstretched wings without making the slightest motion that can be detected, even by the strongest glass, and it probably spends the whole day without resting upon the earth or flapping its wings in the sky.
The November 1895 issue of Land of Sunshine magazine included an article by Van Dyke titled “The California Condor”. This is the opening paragraph:
California would rather be expected to have the largest of our birds. So it has, though the fact is not generally known; for the condor of North America floats only over the dreamy hills of the Pacific Coast. Miles above sea-level, winding in long curves through the topmost blue, this condor may yet be seen above the highest mountains, descending toward evening in immense spirals till, on some sharp crag or storm-beaten trunk, he folds his wings for the night.
The 12 September 1912 issue of Youth’s Companion magazine included Van Dyke’s “The Condor of the United States”. This is the concluding paragraph:
When I have been well hidden among the rocks, I have seen a condor within a few yards hanging on the air for many seconds at a time, not like the hawk balancing itself to fall upon some bird below, but seeming to sleep there as peacefully and quietly as a summer cloud. Then, suddenly, the bird has turned half-over and cleft the air with a sharp hiss of wing-feathers, for which there was not the slightest motion of a wing to account. And all this time the condor has been rising instead of falling; and I have vainly watched the fringed tips of the great wings for the slightest sign of motion.
Clearly, Van Dyke was enchanted by the soaring flight of the California condor. His words on that subject are among the finest that I have read.
Other posts on this blog that present more words by T. S. Van Dyke are Black and Lofty language.
This post shows 8 lapel pins with images of the California condor.
Below each pin I provide whatever information that I have about the pin. In some cases, this includes excerpts from the text on the accompanying package.
Pinnacles National Monument / Wildlife Series
“It is a dominant scavenger that will steal a carcass away from smaller species.”
Hogeye / Western National Parks Association
“Today, Pinnacles National Park’s rock formations, chaparral-covered hills, and oak woodlands are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including the endangered California condor.”
Eagle River Designs / Grand Canyon Association
“These captive-bred condors are successfully foraging, mating, and raising chicks on their own.”
L. W. Bristol Classics
“Condors are frequently seen soaring over the Grand Canyon.”
(No information available)
“The first California condor hatched at the San Diego Zoo was Sisquoc. He grew up at the Safari Park’s ‘condorminium’, where he fathered 17 chicks.”
Ventana Wildlife Society
Wm. Spear Design
Made of copper electroplated with gold and “enameled by hand”
“Their future is still in doubt.”
Unfortunately, that last image does not do justice to an attractive piece of craftwork.
It is notable that all the pins show birds in flight – 7 soaring and one positioned for landing. Except for the pin from the San Diego Zoo, with its purple ruff (which should be black), these are all nice representations of the California condor.
I am not a crossword puzzle person. But because I was struck by how often my newspaper searches for “condor” turned up crossword puzzles, I decided to have a closer look.
During the 20 years 1985-2004, the Iowa Press-Citizen newspaper published 18 crossword puzzles with “condor” as part of a clue.
Because there was more variation in the clues than the answers, I will do this “Jeopardy” style and start with the answers.
The answers aerie, aery, or eyrie appeared 7 times. The corresponding clues were condor’s nest, nest of the condor, condor habitat, condor’s home, condor’s quarters, and condor’s “castle”.
The answers talon or talons appeared 4 times. The clues were condor’s claw, condor’s claws, condor’s weapon, and condor’s grabber.
The answer soars appeared 2 times. The clues were flies like a condor and emulates a condor.
Five answers appeared just once. Here they are followed by their corresponding clues:
raptor / condor or eagle
crag / condor’s perch
like some condors / Andean
like condors / rare
mercenary condor? / hitbird
I am not sure what to make of all this. The only answer / clue pairs that I like are crag / condor’s perch and like condors / rare. The pair talon / condor’s grabber does not apply to the California condor as they cannot “grab”. The pair mercenary condor? / hitbird is just unfortunate.
Perhaps it is safe to say that knowing about condors is not really required to solve the crossword puzzles in the Iowa Press-Citizen.
Thomas R. Dunlap’s excellent In the Field, among the Feathered: a History of Birders and Their Guides (Oxford University Press, 2011) describes how bird guides gradually improved over time. One important innovation was the development of place- or region-specific guides and checklists.
In this post, I note 7 such guides and checklists with an eye on the California condor.
This first booklet does not include the California condor among its 255 listed bird species:
Even the sub-list of species “not to be expected normally” does not include the condor.
The next booklet was published in 1966 by the Golden Gate Audubon Society:
Here, the California condor is classified as “rare” and some range details are provided:
Still regularly seen along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley north to southeastern San Benito County and along the east side north to Fresno County, occasionally farther north.
Another booklet is for a region to the south:
The text here indicates that California condors will be seen less than 25% of the time on visits “to the right place”. Some of those right places are described and shown in a fine map credited to Richard J. Smith:
Next is a checklist in the form of a single, folded sheet of paper:
The relevant text is to the point:
This single, folded page is dated 1972:
Codes indicate that California condors are seen in the winter, albeit rarely, in the city and foothills of Palo Alto (near Stanford University):
Another single, folded page describes the California condor as “extirpated from county”:
In fact, there were no California condors in the wild anywhere in the world when this Los Angeles County checklist was published.
A decade-old booklet describes itself as “the official checklist of birds recorded in California, as maintained by the Western Field Ornithologists’ California Bird Records Committee”:
Here is the relevant text:
That code E indicates a species “extirpated as naturally occurring in California”.
Finally, I note a different sort of list:
Published in 1984, this single sheet measures just 4 × 7 inches when folded but 4 × 50 inches when unfolded. When I first unfolded this document, I was surprised by its size. No doubt the creators wanted to make an impression.
The list includes animals and plants. The California condor is the 1st species listed under the Falconiformes (birds of prey).
Does it seem odd that the editors of a journal named the Osprey would criticize other ornithological publications for adopting the names of birds?
In “Names of Magazines”, which appeared in the May 1901 issue of the Osprey, the editors wrote:
A peculiar style for uninomial ornithological journals was early inaugurated. The name of a bird – Rhea – was selected as far back as 1846, for a periodical devoted to ornithology … There was some reason for taking the name of a bird … But the principle was liable to abuse, and, in fact, has been flagrantly abused. We need not mention any of them except our own magazine … What is there in the Osprey that its name should be tacked on to a magazine? Nothing whatever! There is no aptness and nothing suggestive. The system is a bad one calculated to bring ridicule on the science and should no longer be continued.
In their issue for July-August 1901, the editors of the Condor concurred (with tongues in cheeks):
This is a conclusion which every thinking person must have evolved who has endeavored to solve the relationship of Plautus impennis … or of our western Gymnogyps – proud and majestic though he may be – to the various magazines bearing these birds’ common and more euphonious cognomens. The association of any of these names with the magazines bearing them suggests nothing, and this being an age of progression, we shall expect to see our contemporary adopt its own sensible advice and head the reform movement.
I have filed the above controversy under “small fish that were never fried”. But this debate does provide an opportunity to note journals and magazines named after birds that have published information about the California condor.
Please note that I have excluded Birds of Prey Bulletin, Vulture News, and the like. I consider only those periodicals that have adopted the peculiar uninomial style.
Deserving special mention is the California Condor (not to be confused with the Cooper Ornithological Club’s journal Condor):
Below are issue covers from my library:
Previous posts to this blog have referred to these periodicals:
Before a museum can display a specimen of the California condor to the public, a specimen has to be acquired. These accessions to a museum’s collection may take the form of gifts or loans. Museums also purchase specimens from collectors and make trades for specimens with other museums.
In this post I note 7 reports of accessions of California condor specimens by museums. To provide context for these reports, I have included a few details that are not about the condor.
This acknowledgment appeared in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences for 17 September 1855, under the heading “Donations to the Cabinet”:
From Mr. A. C. Taylor, quills taken from a California Vulture (Cathartes californianus, Shaw) killed in the vicinity of the Red Woods of Contra Costa. The bird measured 13½ feet across the wings.
The thanks of the Academy were voted for the donation.
According to the Annual Report of the Director to the Board of Trustees for the Year 1900-1901, the Field Columbian Museum’s Department of Ornithology purchased “2 California vultures” and “1 egg of California condor”. (At the beginning of the 20th century, the names condor and vulture were both in regular use.)
In an article titled “Receive Valuable Specimens: Science Museum of Claremont Gets Several Rare Birds”, the Los Angeles Herald for 8 October 1904 reported that:
Mr. F. N. Cogswell of Pomona presented to the college a fine mounted specimen of the California vulture, a bird which is now nearly extinct. This bird was killed in Brea canon last May and its spread of wings measure over ten feet. Miss Ruth Richmond of the senior class spoke of the vulture and its habits.
(The college referred to is Pomona College in Claremont, California.)
The Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History (1914) records that a “California Condor” was among “110 specimens received in the flesh from the New York Zoölogical Park”. (New York’s zoo had live California condors on exhibit in the early 1900s. Presumably, one of those birds died and was then given to the museum.)
This appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen for 10 March 1916:
An excellent specimen of the California condor has recently been added to the zoological museum. This rare bird, perhaps the only one in any museum in the middle west, was received from Dr. Kill__n [text illegible] of San Francisco, a friend of Professor Dill.
(The museum referred to is that of Iowa State University.)
Again from the Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences, this time for 1916, is this listing under the heading “Appendix to the Director’s Report: List of Accessions to the Museum and Library, 1916”:
Mailliard, Hon. John W., Sr., San Francisco: Two specimens of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), collected in San Diego County, Cal., Jan. 1 and 3, 1894, by E. B. Towne; and one bound volume, “Egyptian Birds” by Charles Whymper. Gift.
The last examples are from the Smithsonian Institution. The Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Year Ended June 30, 1931 includes two entries in a section titled “Accessions to the Collections During the Fiscal Year 1930-1931”:
PENNSYLVANIA, UNIVERSITY OF, Philadelphia, Pa.: 2 specimens of condor bones from University Museum (112375, loan); 55 specimens of plants from Massachusetts (113545, exchange).
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: National Zoological Park: Skin and skeleton of a Murine opossum, skull of a wart hog, skin and skull of a monkey, … and egg of a California condor (115193).
(That egg had presumably been laid by the California condors that were in the national zoo in the early 20th century.)
In 1926, a new ornithological “journal” appeared. The Buzzard was published by the Cuckoo Ornithological Club of Los Angeles. I recently acquired the first 2 issues. Here’s a look.
The new publication was a spoof on the Condor, which was published by the Cooper Ornithological Club.
The California condor is mentioned in the second issue, as part of what appears to be an inside joke:
The Buzzard included articles, such as this one from the second issue:
The major concludes:
Mankind must take warning, and profit by the lesson. The Cowbird’s scheme is obviously the only way in which any form of life can succeed in the long run…. By having the young attended to by those who make a business of it, the rest of the race can be assured of days of progress and nights of peace.
Like “real” ornithological journals, the Buzzard included advertisements for books:
I am not sure why Mexico, Florida, and Ohio were singled out in this advertisement. But I can explain 2 other details. The South Moulton Company had recently published William Leon Dawson’s The Birds of California and there is a suburb of Los Angeles known as Eagle Rock.
Unlike its serious brethren, the Buzzard included a collection of jokes under the heading “Gag Garage”. Here’s one that reveals a topic on the mind of ornithologists of the day:
In its first issue, the Buzzard had some fun with the Auk, a “real” journal:
Finally, here’s the back cover of the second issue:
If you are interested in reading the Buzzard, it may be found in the libraries of McGill University, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, and University of Oxford (I never joke about libraries that maintain collections of obscure publications).
About 5 years ago I setup a “Google alert” to let me know of news concerning the California condor. If there is any news over a 24 hour period, it is gathered up and sent to me by email at 7:30 a.m.
I have saved these alert emails so it is easy for me to search their contents. Here’s a report of what I learned from some searching.
First, some details.
The results below are based on the 826 alerts that I received starting on 22 May 2014 and ending on 21 May 2019. This date range includes 1826 days (including the one leap year). (What a meaningless delight that I did not receive alerts on exactly 1000 days during that 5 year period.)
Each alert consists of one or more news items (2 or 3 seems to be typical). The sources for these items include not just traditional news media, but also occasional press releases from businesses and non-governmental organizations, some blog posts, and the like.
Because I did not setup my search with quotation marks around California condor, I receive a few alerts having nothing to do with the bird. For example, an alert might refer to a company named condor that is doing business in California. Such anomalies are not common.
So what did I find?
I started by searching for states where California condors might be found. Here’s the number of alerts followed by the state:
The results for “californian condor” came from the Telegraph newspaper in the UK and the Hindu newspaper in India.
Concern about lead ammunition and the California condor has been of considerable recent interest. Here are results of relevant searches:
(Be aware that some of the results for lead may not have been about the metal.)
California condors are still with us because of science and management. Here are the results of searches to identify news associated with these activities:
Finally, here are results for important words that are often associated with the California condor:
I was heartened that results for wild were (barely) more prevalent than those for endanger. Perhaps the day will come when the California condor’s near extinction will be a distant memory and the birds will instead be thought of as fully wild creatures.
In 1953, the National Audubon Society published its Research Report No. 4. Titled The California Condor and written by Carl B. Koford, this book was the 1st detailed scientific study of Gymnogyps californianus.
This post is not about the contents of Koford’s report. Rather, I provide selections from published reviews of the report. These reviews make plain the significance of Koford’s research and provide a sense of how experts responded to Koford’s findings.
In between the reviews I show some photographs and diagrams from the report (note the shadows!).
Robert Cushman Murphy’s review appeared in the September-October 1953 issue of Audubon Magazine:
… at one jump the condor has changed its status from one of the least known to one of the best known of North American birds!
Any one of Koford’s chapters would serve as a model for an approach to the understanding of any other bird.
Can we save the condor? The very question should shame public sentiment in the United States as a whole, because we surely can save the bird if we as a people really wish to do so…. Its present status offers us a simple test to show whether we Americans are or are not an enlightened people.
The October 1953 issue of Bird-Banding included M. M. Nice’s review:
Everything in condor life moves slowly: parents may incubate for 24 to 48 hours at a stretch … and feed the young once or twice a day; the chick stays in the nest 20 weeks, then spends 10 weeks out of the nest before it can fly and is still more or less dependent on its parents for food for 30 more weeks – a total of 60 weeks from hatching to independence …
The author discusses mortality factors, various suggestions for artificial feeding of wild birds, and raising in zoos, but decides the greatest hope for the survival of this remarkable species is protection from disturbance by man.
The Auk for January 1954 included a review by Harvey I. Fisher:
Carl Koford practically lived with the condor from 1939 to 1941, and he did additional field work after World War II. However, he has not relied solely on personal observations; he made an extensive search of the literature and interviewed many persons whose regular or intermittent interests had brought them into contact with these birds.
As Koford envisions the dynamics of the population, the survival of a single condor or the success of a single nest may mean a significant difference between an increase or a decrease in that year’s population. There are annually perhaps only five successful nests …
Joe T. Marshall, Jr.’s review was in the Wilson Bulletin for March 1954:
A model of tactful writing, the book avoids caustic comments upon human foibles and so may win more to the condor’s side…. By his own example Dr. Koford has demonstrated the feasibility of his suggested program of conservation by education, through personal contact, of those persons who meet the condor in their daily lives.
It is purely the personal opinion of the reviewer that we see emerging from this wealth of information the one constant trait of the condor which is precisely its inconstancy; it is erratic, cautious, unpredictable and capricious.
As long as no more roads and trails are constructed near roosts and nests the outlook for the condor is good.
It seems to the reviewer that it is the duty of every ornithologist not only to read Dr. Koford’s book but to insure that his recommendations for aid are actually carried out.
Finally, I note a brief review from July 1981 in Mississippi Kite. This review, by an author identified only as J. A. J., concerned a major event in the history of the California condor and referred to the 1966 reprint edition of Koford’s book:
For those of you who have read of the death of a Condor chick this year and have heard of the controversy surrounding plans to save this rapidly declining and perilously endangered species, I highly recommend this reprint of Koford’s classic study. It was first published in 1953 as a special report of the National Audubon Society, but remains today as a major source of our knowledge of these magnificent birds.