A 1953 television show

In 1953, California condors appeared on a CBS television program (in the USA). While the program’s visuals are spectacular, the accompanying narration is anything but. Here is a report.

The television series Omnibus was a weekly hour of culture. One episode included California condors, William Shakespeare, and more.

The series’ host is Alistair Cooke, who also introduced and narrated the 9-minute segment about condors. The black and white film is the work of Ed Harrison.

While I have watched the condor piece from Omnibus, I do not own a copy. So I am unable to provide any images from the program here.

Ed Harrison’s wonderful film shows California condors living their lives in the wild. There are close-up views of condors flying, roosting, and preening. One bird stands in the “sun worshiper” pose, holding its wings full spread. We see an egg in a cave and then the slowly-maturing chick. Several condors are shown feeding on a carcass. I especially enjoyed seeing the birds bathing in a beautiful pool of clear water.

Unfortunately, the narration mischaracterizes condors and presents their lives as dismal. We are told that the condor is a poor flier and a “weak bird” that is “not very well equipped for the things that he has to do”. When a golden eagle temporarily drives a group of condors from their food, the condors are said to then “stand there respectfully, pathetically, somehow resigned to their fate”. The condors’ daily bath is the “only happy time … in the life of this gentle and rather sad bird”.

The narration includes major errors. California condors are not “one of the oldest, most primitive bird forms on Earth”. Nor is it true that the females lay only 1 egg every 4 years and that the birds do not fly until they are 3 years old.

Dark, ominous orchestral music plays behind the narration.

At the close of the film, we hear that there are “less than 40 California condors left alive”, “a lost and lonely family”. Their habitat has been declared a sanctuary

but apparently there can be no sanctuary against evolution. As surely as the dinosaur, their day is done.

I was taken aback by those concluding words.

It is important to note that the segment makes no mention of the adverse impacts of humans on the condor.

Fortunately, other people did not give up on the California condor and, thanks to much hard work, the species is still with us today.