Consumer products from North America

A recent blog post at Slate shows the 19th-century trademark for the “The Condor”, the brand of “Baker’s Extra Flour” produced by the Sperry Flour Company of San Francisco.  The trademark includes an image of the Andean condor, readily identified by the caruncle (comb) on the bird’s head and the white ruff of feathers around the neck. California condors have no caruncle and their neck ruff is black.

Unfortunately, Slate describes the trademark as showing a “humorous-looking California condor”. Because the image is a straightforward representation of the Andean condor that is typical of a century ago, the image does not strike me as humorous. (The image and text in question can be seen here.)

Many businesses have chosen to associate their products with the condor. Outside of North America, the condor images found on products can often be recognized as that of the Andean condor. This is understandable given that this South American species is more common, slightly larger, and has a flashier appearance than the California condor. But, as evidenced by the case of Sperry Flour, even North American businesses that have adopted the condor for their brands have chosen an image of a bird other than the California condor.

Below are more examples of ornithological inaccuracy (or ambiguity) and geographical disloyalty in consumer product brands.

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Premium cards

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.

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Are some bird species worth more than others?

My interest in the question posed by this post’s title has to do with how people perceive California condors in comparison to other birds.

When I show an image of a condor to those who are not familiar with them, inevitably I hear reactions such as “gross”, “disgusting”, and “bizarre”. If I tell people that condors make their living eating carrion, these adverse reactions often grow stronger. Articles in newspapers and magazines from the 19th century to the present often describe condors in quite negative terms.

How can California condors possibly compete for favor with elegant swans, regal hawks, and beautifully-colored songbirds?

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Don’t blame us

The factors responsible for the near extinction of the California condor have been debated since the 19th century. Today, the factor considered the greatest threat to condors is the use of lead ammunition by hunters. Condors may be poisoned by lead when they consume “gut piles”, the entrails of deer and other game left behind by hunters.

Among the many other threats to condors that have been reported through the years are the poisons employed to kill agricultural pests and the shooting of condors for their feathers. This has led to defensiveness by trade organizations associated with these activities.

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