Silver Boy

A 1930 article in the Los Angeles Times presented

An interview with Dr. Vance Joseph Hoyt, author of last year’s best seller in animal stories ….

From this article readers learn that

“Silver Boy,” Dr. Hoyt’s book, tells the story of a silver gray fox ….

For several years Dr. Hoyt has been catching the wild animals in box traps, making pets of them and living on equal terms with them in his place in Topanga Canyon.

Since the appearance of Dr. Hoyt’s book he has been recognized as an authority on the animal life of this region ….

Dr. Hoyt says that of all forms of authorship the nature-writer must be the most accurate and that personally he is as conscientious in keeping the records of a baby rattler or fox [as] he would be with those of a scion of the royal family.

In the interview, Hoyt shares his passion for the chaparral, the “elfin forest” that surrounds urban Los Angeles and supports a wide array of animal life. Hoyt says that

The chaparral is the home of the largest bird that flies, the condor, as well as the smallest, the hummingbird.

But Hoyt is frustrated with his fellow citizens:

I was appalled at the lack of knowledge of the average Californian regarding the chaparral and the animal-life we have here at the doorstep of Los Angeles.

This is strange country – strange trees, strange animals and strange climatic conditions, and … filled with wonders for him who has eyes to see.

Given this review, how could I not be eager to read Silver Boy: The Gray Fox of Topanga?

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Bozo the killer

The feature-length silent film The Night Cry premiered in 1926. The star and hero of the movie was the famous dog Rin Tin Tin, who had top billing. The villain was a California condor, who received no acknowledgment by name or photograph in the movie’s credits or on the movie’s poster.

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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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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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