Birds of prey, raptors, vultures, or ???

Scientists are classifiers. Scientists identify species and then group species into genera, genera into families, and so on. Both scientific and common names are assigned to these various categories.

But classifications change over time and, even at a single point in time, not all scientists agree about how to classify species.

Here are 3 quick looks at changes in and controversies over the classification of the California condor. These examples all concern common names. The sources considered span 3 centuries.

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The beginning of Baird’s catalogs of birds

Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887) was a distinguished zoologist, educator, and scientific administrator. He served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1878 until his death.

Baird’s last major publication was A History of North American Birds, 3 volumes that were co-authored with Thomas Brewer and Robert Ridgway. The entry for the California condor is in the last volume and includes this illustration by Edwin L. Sheppard of a condor chick:
01 BBR 1974 - chick
“BBR”, as this book is sometimes known (the initials of the authors’ last names), was published in 1874. It is the end of a string of comprehensive works about birds by Baird. In this post I present what appears to be the beginning of that string.

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Cover art from Cooper Ornithological Club/Society publications

The Cooper Ornithological Club was founded in 1893, taking its name from ornithologist J. G. Cooper. In his history of the organization’s early years, Harry Swarth makes clear that the club’s focus was the birds of California.

The organization has published its own journal regularly since January 1899. Beginning with the January 1900 issue, the journal’s name became The Condor.

An image of the California condor was featured on the cover of most of the club’s publications from the beginning. Even as the Cooper Ornithological Club became the Cooper Ornithological Society and the organization’s focus broadened to include more than just California’s birds, an image of the condor has continued to grace the cover of most of the society’s publications.

However, the view of the condor portrayed on these publication covers — from 1899 to the present — has changed. As discussed below, this change parallels the evolution of ornithology as a science.

First though, in chronological order, here are images of the cover art.

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