Illustrations & photos of habitat: 1880s-1990

Many images of the California condor also show their habitat in the background. We see condors soaring over mountains and the ocean, roosting in trees, and nesting in caves.

Habitat matters to the California condor. As part of his argument against capturing all condors for captive breeding, environmentalist David Brower wrote:

A condor is five per cent feathers, flesh, blood, and bone. All the rest is place.

In this post, I present images of just those places, the habitat, from a variety of sources.

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Range maps

Last year, James K. Sheppard won an award for his 3-dimensional map of the space utilized by a single California condor. This remarkable map was made possible by data obtained from a global positioning system (GPS) device attached to the condor’s wing. Developing the map required complex analysis performed on a supercomputer, plus artistic talent.

Sheppard’s remarkable map, and all the winners of the BMC Ecology Image Competition 2015, can be seen here.

Maps such as Sheppard’s have become possible thanks to new technologies. In the past, information showing where a species of bird lives was often presented only in words.

For example, Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds did not include range maps in the 1st (1941) or 2nd (1961) editions. The 3rd edition (1990) does include maps showing where bird species breed, winter, and are resident year-round. But there is no such map for the California condor. All condors were in captivity at this time. There is only a 1-sentence description of their former range. (The 1st 3 editions of Peterson’s guide were published by Houghton Mifflin.)

In recent years, range maps have become more common. Even the typical maps that show range in 2 dimensions can convey a great deal of valuable information about where birds live.

To demonstrate the variety of range maps and how they have changed through time, I present 10 maps for the California condor. These are in chronological order.

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Place-specific check lists from the 19th century

Birders are listers. For some who are interested in birds, check lists are about keeping track of the birds they have (and haven’t) seen. For others, these lists are about monitoring and understanding the diversity of birds.

Lists are available for all the world’s bird species and for just the species found in specific places. Place-specific check lists are available for the birds found in states and provinces, cities and counties, parks and forests, and mountains and islands. For example, Theodore Roosevelt kept a list of the birds he saw in Washington while he was president.

There is something haunting about coming across a species in a place-specific check list when that species is no longer found in that place. There is also a sense of hope when a species long gone from a place has returned. But having either of these experiences — feeling haunted or hopeful — depends on the existence of records, such as check lists, from the past.

This post is a brief look at 9 place-specific check lists published in the 2nd half of the 19th century. All these lists include only minimal notes about each species. And all these lists include the bird we now call the California condor, a species that was not found in any wild place during the years 1987-1992. Some of the check lists are for places where the condor has now returned and some are for places where the condor is no longer found but could return some day.

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Thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger

Many coin designs incorporate images of birds. Several of the US Mint’s state quarters feature birds, including the peregrine falcon for Idaho, scissor-tailed flycatcher for Oklahoma, and Caroline wren for South Carolina. More recently, quarter dollar coins honoring the El Yunque National Forest, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and Everglades National Park have included the Puerto Rican parrot, great blue heron, great egret, anhinga, and roseate spoonbill.

Several South American countries feature the Andean condor on coins, some going back to at least the 19th century.

But I know of only one “real” coin with a California condor on it: the 2005 California state quarter.

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