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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