Given that the extinction of the California condor was predicted in the 19th century, it is not surprising that there has long been talk of the last condor. How much talk?

I have found 61 published items with the words last and condor in the title that concern the California condor and that were published prior to the year 2000. When these items were published provides evidence of how concern about the condor’s future has changed over time.

Of the 61 publications, more than 1/4 were from a single year: 1987, the first year that all condors living on Earth were in captivity.


During the 1980s there were 42 publications that met my criteria, more than 2/3s of the total. During the 1970s there were 9.

But I found items from every decade from the 1940s to 1990s. The 2 items from the 1940s were newspaper articles:

“Last of Giant Condors Caught in Action by Times Cameraman.” Los Angeles Times. 14 March 1949.

Hoffmann, Eleanor. “Last Stand of Condors.” New York Times. 5 April 1942.

During the 1990s there were just 2 items, a substantial decrease from the 1980s and a sign of the hope for California condor’s survival. One of these 2 was distinct from the other 60 publications in that it carried the good news that captive breeding was happening:

“Season’s Last Condor Chick Breaks out of Shell.” Los Angeles Times. 26 May 1990.

How was last employed in the 61 publication titles? Several items were posed as a question, for example:

Murphy, Jamie. “Last Days of the Condor?” Time. 30 December 1985.

Last often referred to the California condor as a species or to individual birds. Modifiers paired with last included wild, free, known, female, and shy.


Last also referred to time, as in “Last days”, and place, as in “Last haunts”. The survival of the species was sometimes emphasized, as in “Last stand”, which accounted for 6 of the 61 items.



I was especially struck by the title words “Last flight”, which put the focus on the birds themselves.

“Last look” referred to the final opportunity for humans to see California condors.


Management activities to prevent the condor’s extinction were the object of last, as in “Last round-up”. The desperation that many saw in the efforts to prevent the condor’s extinction were captured with “Last-ditch”, “Last chance”, and “Last hope”.

English-language publications were not alone in applying last:

Brood, Krister. “Den Sista Kaliforniakondoren? {The Last California Condor?}.” Fauna och Flora. May 1986.

C, R. “Le Dernier Condor de Californie {The Last California Condor}.” Carnets de Zoologie. June 1987.

Caras, Roger. “La Dernière Chance de ‘l’Oiseau Tonnerre’ {The Last Chance for the ‘Thunderbird’}.” Géo. July 1980.

Articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals accounted for 60 of the 61 items. Those periodicals were a diverse set, including National Humane Review, Not Man Apart, Oryx, The Progressive, Sports Illustrated, and USA Today. The 61st item was a children’s book:


The frequent appearance of last in titles of publications about the California condor demonstrates humans’ concern for the species and indicates the degree of pessimism for its future. The sharp decline in titles with last from the 1980s to the 1990s is consistent with the increase in the number of California condors during this time. So let us hope that, when it comes to condors, last will remain a word of the past.

Last wild California condor captured for breeding program. American Cage-Bird Magazine. August 1987.

Last of the shy condors. Life. 27 November 1964.

Silverman, Milton. The fabulous condors’ last stand. Saturday Evening Post. 7 April 1951.

Michelmore, Peter. Last stand of the condor. Reader’s Digest. February 1994.

Borland, Hal. Take a long, last look at the condor. National Wildlife. April 1974.

Rauzon, Mark J. The last condor. Marine Endeavors. 1986.