Monsters

Is the California condor a monster?

In the 19th century, newspapers sometimes described condors as monsters. This is from the Los Angeles Times of 25 November 1882:

Mr. S. A. Widney and his brother-in-law, Edwin Jenkins, took a trip up the Arroyo Seco to the mountains last Monday evening. On Tuesday morning they killed a condor … It was a monster.

And this is from the 17 March 1894 issue of the same newspaper:

A mountaineer named Samuel Edwardson brought a large condor down from Soquel Canyon a few days ago … The monster bird measured nine feet and four inches from tip to tip …

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s issue dated 13 October 1895 noted that:

According to the distinctions made by Professor Loomis a great many of our citizens confound the common ordinary everyday turkey buzzard with the monster condor.

An article in the San Francisco Call for 21 June 1896 was headed “He ate too much of the dead cow”. One of the subheadings was:

A monster vulture that was too full to fly

The 29 June 1897 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle carried the headline “Captured a condor” with the subheading:

A Castroville man lassoes a monster bird

This appeared in the Los Angeles Sunday Herald Illustrated Magazine for 4 August 1901:

But [the California condor] bears so close a resemblance to its monster cousin, the condor of the Andes, that it would have been difficult even for the initiated to distinguish between the two.

In the 20th century, California condors were not monsters but those writing about the condor still found use for the descriptor. The Science News-Letter of 20 October 1928. included an article about a pet condor that was taken from the wild, but only after it was photographed there. So now it’s the camera that is the monster:

… let a camera come into view and [the pet condor] edged away. Perhaps he remembered it in his early days, when he was pulled out of the nest and hissed in defiance at being set up before the one-eyed monster.

In the January-February 1941 issue of the Condor, Harry Harris wrote this about the quills of the California condor’s flight feathers:

It is very doubtful if any frontiersman ever used so large and impractical a substitute for a lost pipe stem as a condor quill, but the story has come down through a long line of compilers … Users of the weed … will note how ill adapted such a monster tube is for service as a pipe stem.

Milton Silverman sought to correct the record about the California condor in an article in the 7 April 1951 edition of the Saturday Evening Post:

In addition, the condor has been frequently but erroneously described by imaginative characters as a mysterious, terrifying, winged monster … that pounces upon living lambs, calves, fawns and even human babies and carries them off to its rocky roost.

Jumping ahead to the current century, the California condor is included in Gerald Legg’s Monster Animals (this book is noted in the post More illustrations from books for children: 1986-2016).

Cover - Newton 2009

In his book Strange California Monsters (Schiffer, 2009), Michael Newton reports that the California condor is the largest bird in the state. But Newton is interested in more “mysterious” creatures. He includes this photo attributed to a William Rebsamen:

Image - Newton 2009

(Small plane pilots beware!)

For more posts about the language humans use when referring to the California condor, click the LANGUAGE button somewhere on this screen (the location depends on your device).