Businesses have long sought customers’ attention by offering free items that are not explicitly about their businesses or products. An example, perhaps more common in the past than present, is premium cards packaged with products.
In the case of premium cards that feature the California condor, there is a potential benefit to the business and the condor. But I am sure it comes as no surprise that promotional items are not necessarily a reliable source of information about the condor.
All 3 premium cards below have an image of the condor on one side and descriptive information about the species on the other. Two of the cards are identified as part of series featuring endangered species.
The information on this card is sound and helps date the card, along with the copyright on the art, to the 1970s or early 1980s. The artist for the fine illustration is Guy Coheleach, who contributed several illustrations of the California condor to Audubon magazine in the 1960s.
Peter Scott receives credit for the illustration and text. The text suggests that this card is from the 1960s.
But there is misinformation here. The text states that condors and vultures are not closely related. In fact, the world’s 2 condors – California and Andean – and the 5 species found in the New World that are known as “vultures” are all part of a single family: New World vultures. This has been generally accepted for over a century. For example, this classification scheme can be found in the 1910 edition of the check list of the American Ornithologists’ Union. I suspect an editing error, rather than an error by Peter Scott, a widely-respected expert on birds. In The World Atlas of Birds, for which Peter Scott was consultant editor, condors and vultures are treated as members of the same family.
I cannot be certain that the 3rd card was intended to promote a business, as opposed to being sold as a collectible item in its own right. But the card is exceptional so I wanted to share it in the hope that someone might be able to tell me more about its source.
The card’s face has 2 nice images, only one of which is visible at a time, depending on how you hold the card in relation to your eye. But in scanning the card for this post, both images appeared on top of each other:
That image pair is one reason the card is exceptional. The other is the text (for which no source is credited). There is a remarkable quantity of misinformation in that small amount of text:
At the time when California condors were found all along the Pacific Coast of the USA (more than a century ago), they were also found farther inland than shown on the card’s map.
While farmers sometimes thought condors were their enemies, they were not. So it’s unfortunate that the ambiguous wording can be read as perpetuating this myth.
For the last century, no scientist that I am aware of has considered condors and ospreys to be in the same family.
California condors’ feet do not allow them to grasp anything.
I have not seen any credible reports of California condors killing live goats or rabbits.
Condors are vultures.
Premium cards can promote interest in endangered animals, perhaps especially from children. But the last card, in particular, serves as a reminder that not all information is good information. Caveat emptor.
Check-list of North American birds. 3rd edition. American Ornithologists’ Union. 1910.
Mitchell Beazley Publishers, editor. The world atlas of birds. Crescent. 1974.