Place-specific check lists from the 19th century

Birders are listers. For some who are interested in birds, check lists are about keeping track of the birds they have (and haven’t) seen. For others, these lists are about monitoring and understanding the diversity of birds.

Lists are available for all the world’s bird species and for just the species found in specific places. Place-specific check lists are available for the birds found in states and provinces, cities and counties, parks and forests, and mountains and islands. For example, Theodore Roosevelt kept a list of the birds he saw in Washington while he was president.

There is something haunting about coming across a species in a place-specific check list when that species is no longer found in that place. There is also a sense of hope when a species long gone from a place has returned. But having either of these experiences — feeling haunted or hopeful — depends on the existence of records, such as check lists, from the past.

This post is a brief look at 9 place-specific check lists published in the 2nd half of the 19th century. All these lists include only minimal notes about each species. And all these lists include the bird we now call the California condor, a species that was not found in any wild place during the years 1987-1992. Some of the check lists are for places where the condor has now returned and some are for places where the condor is no longer found but could return some day.

John Fannin reported seeing the California condor in British Columbia and supported his observation with that naturalist John Lord:
01 Fannin 1891 - entry

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reported condors along the Columbia River and, nearly a century later, Arthur Pope included them in his list of Oregon birds:
02 Pope 1895 - masthead & entry
Today, condors are not found north of central California. But there is interest in reestablishing them in northern California and Oregon.

Elliott Coues reported condors as residents of Arizona:
03 Coues 1866 - entry

But Henry Henshaw indicated they were “very rare” in Utah:
04 Henshaw 1876 - entry

Thanks to the reintroduction of California condors to Arizona in 1996, condors are again seen in northern Arizona and have recently spread on their own into Utah.

For central California, I have lists from 2 locales. Joseph Skirm indicates that condors were common around Santa Cruz:
05 Skirm 1884 - entry

But Lyman Belding reported few sightings of condors just north of Sacramento:
06 Belding 1878 - entry

Joseph Grinnell’s list indicates that condors were regularly seen in the mountains surrounding the greater Los Angeles area:
07 Grinnell 1898 - entry

The last holdout of condors, prior to their all being captured in 1987, was up the coast from Los Angeles. Barton Evermann report the condor as “resident” in parts of Ventura County:
08 Evermann 1886 - entry

However, Clark Streator reported the condor as “nearly extinct” in Santa Barbara County:
09 Streator 1886 - entry

Place-specific check lists of bird species are much more than just reports of sightings of individual species. Those who created these lists devoted substantial time to observing birds in a locale so that they could provide a comprehensive view of the bird community in that place and at that time.

All who are concerned about the state of our environment today owe a debt to those who developed and published lists of bird and other species, and to those who preserved these lists for our use in the 21st century. Our understanding of our present environment can only be a meager one if we do not have some understanding of our past environment.

Of course, the information in these check lists has been well-known to California condor researchers for decades. But the information carries more weight for me when seen in its original form, or even a scanned image of that form.

To see the range of place-specific check lists currently available, search the online catalog of Buteo Books.

Maynard, Lucy W, and Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt’s list of birds. Bird-Lore. March 1910.

Fannin, John. Check list of British Columbia birds. Wolfeenden. 1891.

Lord, John Keast. The naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Bentley. 1866.

Pope, Arthur Lamson. A list of the birds of Oregon. Oregon Naturalist. December 1895.

Henshaw, H W. An annotated list of the birds of Utah. Annals of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York. June 1874.

Coues, Elliott. List of the birds of Fort Whipple, Arizona. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. March 1866.

Grinnell, Joseph. Birds of the Pacific Slope of Los Angeles County. Pasadena Academy of Sciences Publication 2. 1898.

Skirm, Joseph. List of birds of Santa Cruz, Cal. Ornithologist and Oölogist.  December 1884.

Belding, L. A partial list of the birds of central California. Proceedings of the United States National Museum. 1878.

Evermann, Barton W. A list of the birds observed in Ventura County, California. Auk.  January 1886.

Streator, Clark P. List of birds observed in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, Cal. Ornithologist and Oölogist. May 1886.