Monday, October 12, 2009

Audubon’s Illustration of the Endangered California Condor

John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Plate 426 - California Vulture (California Condor) from The Birds of America

Of the three species of Vulture which inhabit the southern parts of North America, this is so much superior in size to the rest that it bears to them the same proportion as a Golden Eagle to a Goshawk. It inhabits the valleys and plains of the western slope of the continent, and has not been observed eastward of the Rocky Mountains. John James Audubon

John James Audubon is without rival as the most celebrated American Natural History artist. Audubon devoted his life to realizing his dream of identifying and depicting the birds of North America, and his work has had profound cultural and historical significance. In the second decade of the 19th century, he set out to travel throughout the wilderness of the United States, drawing every notable species of native bird. His remarkable ambition and artistic talent culminated in the publication of the monumental Birds of America betweem 1827 and 1838, a series of 435 aquatints that have only grown in fame since the time of their first appearance. This work established Audubon as an early American artist who could attract European attention, and for many, he personified New World culture and its emerging independent existence.

This enormous bird, now endangered, was widespread in Audubon’s time, although he never actually visited the Pacific slope where it was found. His friend, Dr. Townsend, sent him the following account, “The Californian most plentiful in spring at which season it feeds upon the dead salmon that are thrown upon the shore [of the Columbia River] in great numbers...The Californian vulture cannot, however, be called a plentiful species as even in the situations mentioned it is rare to see more than two or three at a time and these so shy as not to allow an approach to within a hundred yards unless by stratagem.”

One of the world’s rarest and most imperiled birds, the California Condor was rescued from the brink of extinction by captive breeding and release. The California Condor was once found throughout the Southwestern U.S. into Mexico (as well as pockets in New York and Florida), by the early 1900s they were largely confined to the rugged mountains and foothills of Central and Southern California, where they remained until 1987. In that year, the last free-flying wild bird was captured and integrated into an existing captive breeding program. (source: The Audubon Society)

From 1987 to 1992, no California Condors flew free in the California skies. In 1992 captive-bred condors were released into the wild at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge north of Ventura, California, with additional captive-reared birds added to the flock each year thereafter. Today, the condor remains imperiled, with just 279 condors living, including 70 wild birds in California.

Audubon's hand-colored aquantint of the California Vulture/Condor is currently on display at Arader Galleries San Francisco location at 435 Jackson Street, and is available for purchase. For more information, please call 415.788.5115.

No comments: