At approximately 1 month of age, California condor chick Saticoy should weigh around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms). The parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, may start leaving the chick alone overnight while they sleep near the nest. If the weather is still cool or it’s raining, the parents may continue to brood overnight until the weather improves. Even though the parents are increasing their time away from the chick (and hence, Condor Cam), they remain VERY vigilant and protective of their nest and, especially, their chick. Some field biologists have even seen wild condor parents chasing black bears away from the nest area!
Up until now, the chick has been scooting around the nest on its tarsal joints. We refer to that as a “tarsal crawl.” It’s not uncommon, at this age, to see the chick standing all the way up on its feet, teetering around the nest, holding its wings out for balance. As its legs get sturdier, the chick may even approach the parent, begging for food. The “wing-begging” behavior we’ve been seeing will get more pronounced: lots of wing-flapping and head-bobbing as it tries to position itself in front of the parent.
It is possible that the parents, who are offering larger quantities of food per feeding session, might be providing a small amount of fur/hair in the chick’s diet; part of the adults’ diet includes rats and rabbits. Condors can digest just about every part of the animal they eat, except for fur. This fur accumulates in the digestive tract and is eventually regurgitated as waste. We refer to this as casting. A condor’s cast is composed of predominantly fur, whereas a cast from an owl has fur and bones; owls can’t digest bones, but condors can. We have seen condor chicks as young as three weeks cast hair pellets. When the chick casts, it throws its head forward several times, mouth open, until the pellet is ejected from its mouth. It can look like the chick is in trouble, but it is perfectly normal and good for the chick.
At 44 days of age (April 23), Saticoy will get his/her first health exam at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We will obtain a blood sample to make sure the chick is healthy and send a portion of this sample to our Genetics Division, who can determine if Saticoy is male or female. Also, during the exam we will weigh Saticoy and inject a transponder chip as a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian. Most importantly, this exam allows us to administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, a disease that originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to North America by humans. North American animals, including condors, usually don’t have a natural immune response to West Nile virus, so we try to give the chicks as much of a head start as we can.
This exam will be the first time that Saticoy will see humans, so it will naturally be disturbing for the chick. We try to be quick (9 to 10 minutes) to minimize the disturbance. Additionally, we will keep Saticoy covered with a towel to reduce exposure to humans and to provide a bit of security. Sisquoc and Shatash are usually away from the nest when we perform the procedure in order to keep them as calm as possible. We don’t want Saticoy to become accustomed to or feel reassured by our presence; we want this chick to be a wild condor, uninterested and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico.
Saticoy will look very large at this age compared to how big the chick was at hatch, but remember that this little one is still less than half of her/his adult weight. There is much more growth and fun to come!
Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.