Why Pseudogryps?

The name of this website was borrowed from the noted 19th-century ornithologist Elliott Coues.

Coues was a stickler. His list of North American bird species included not just their names. He also provided the correct pronunciation of scientific names and, in some cases, his commentary on those names.

01 Elliott Coues

In Coues’s list, today’s California condor, or Gymnogyps californianus, was categorized under the common name “Californian Vulture” and the scientific name Pseudogryphus californianus. The latter name had been assigned by fellow ornithologist Robert Ridgway. But Coues was not happy with Pseudogryphus because it was an amalgamation of the Greek pseudo (which he also gave as ψευδος) and the Latin gryphus. Coues wrote:

The word is badly formed in two languages: had better have been Pseudogryps.

The Greek gryps (γρύψ) was the equivalent of gryphus, both of which refer to the griffin (a mythological amalgamation of an eagle and a lion).

There have long been rules allowing changes to species names. But even in the 19th century, one scientist’s discomfort with a hybrid name was not significant justification for a change. Pseudogryphus was soon set aside for legitimate reasons and the name Pseudogryps has never been formally assigned to any species. But for me Pseudogryps will always have an association with the California condor.

Two notes: First, in Coues text, ψευδος included a circumflex (ˆ) on the letter υ. Creating that symbol here is currently beyond me. Second, I expect that Coues would have wanted it noted that the correct pronunciation of his name is “cows”.

Coues, Elliott. The Coues check list of North American birds. 2nd edition. Estes and Lauriat. 1882.