Reviews of Carl Koford’s 1953 report

In 1953, the National Audubon Society published its Research Report No. 4. Titled The California Condor and written by Carl B. Koford, this book was the 1st detailed scientific study of Gymnogyps californianus.

This post is not about the contents of Koford’s report. Rather, I provide selections from published reviews of the report. These reviews make plain the significance of Koford’s research and provide a sense of how experts responded to Koford’s findings.

In between the reviews I show some photographs and diagrams from the report (note the shadows!).

Robert Cushman Murphy’s review appeared in the September-October 1953 issue of Audubon Magazine:

… at one jump the condor has changed its status from one of the least known to one of the best known of North American birds!

Any one of Koford’s chapters would serve as a model for an approach to the understanding of any other bird.

Can we save the condor? The very question should shame public sentiment in the United States as a whole, because we surely can save the bird if we as a people really wish to do so…. Its present status offers us a simple test to show whether we Americans are or are not an enlightened people.

Koford 1953 - Photo 1

The October 1953 issue of Bird-Banding included M. M. Nice’s review:

Everything in condor life moves slowly: parents may incubate for 24 to 48 hours at a stretch … and feed the young once or twice a day; the chick stays in the nest 20 weeks, then spends 10 weeks out of the nest before it can fly and is still more or less dependent on its parents for food for 30 more weeks – a total of 60 weeks from hatching to independence …

The author discusses mortality factors, various suggestions for artificial feeding of wild birds, and raising in zoos, but decides the greatest hope for the survival of this remarkable species is protection from disturbance by man.

Koford 1953 - Diagram 1

The Auk for January 1954 included a review by Harvey I. Fisher:

Carl Koford practically lived with the condor from 1939 to 1941, and he did additional field work after World War II. However, he has not relied solely on personal observations; he made an extensive search of the literature and interviewed many persons whose regular or intermittent interests had brought them into contact with these birds.

As Koford envisions the dynamics of the population, the survival of a single condor or the success of a single nest may mean a significant difference between an increase or a decrease in that year’s population. There are annually perhaps only five successful nests …

Koford 1953 - Diagram 2

Joe T. Marshall, Jr.’s review was in the Wilson Bulletin for March 1954:

A model of tactful writing, the book avoids caustic comments upon human foibles and so may win more to the condor’s side…. By his own example Dr. Koford has demonstrated the feasibility of his suggested program of conservation by education, through personal contact, of those persons who meet the condor in their daily lives.

It is purely the personal opinion of the reviewer that we see emerging from this wealth of information the one constant trait of the condor which is precisely its inconstancy; it is erratic, cautious, unpredictable and capricious.

As long as no more roads and trails are constructed near roosts and nests the outlook for the condor is good.

It seems to the reviewer that it is the duty of every ornithologist not only to read Dr. Koford’s book but to insure that his recommendations for aid are actually carried out.

Koford 1953 - Photo 2

Finally, I note a brief review from July 1981 in Mississippi Kite. This review, by an author identified only as J. A. J., concerned a major event in the history of the California condor and referred to the 1966 reprint edition of Koford’s book:

For those of you who have read of the death of a Condor chick this year and have heard of the controversy surrounding plans to save this rapidly declining and perilously endangered species, I highly recommend this reprint of Koford’s classic study. It was first published in 1953 as a special report of the National Audubon Society, but remains today as a major source of our knowledge of these magnificent birds.

Koford’s report is also noted in 2 previous posts: Essential books and Graduate theses.

More of Koford’s fine photos of the California condor can be found elsewhere on this blog.