Condor Chick: Fledged!

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Saticoy, front, and dad Sisquoc hang out in front of the nest box.

The interest and enthusiasm over the hatch and growth of our California condor chick, Saticoy, have been wonderful. We really appreciate all of the comments and questions we have received throughout his development. The two hottest questions right now are “Has Saticoy fledged (left the nest) yet?” and “When can we see into the flight pen to watch him fly?”

Since our last blog entry, we have received some news regarding the pending switch from the nest box camera view to the flight pen camera view. I am sorry to report that, due to technical issues, we will not be able to show you a view of the flight pen. The existing pen camera is no longer compatible with our web cam setup. We hope to rectify this issue before next breeding season so you can see the next stage in a condor’s development. If you don’t see anybody, you can assume that they are either out in the pen or on the ledge of the roost.

Our condor nest boxes are elevated: they’re on the second floor of the condor breeding facility at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The nests have one entrance that leads to the roost area. The entrance has an 18-inch barrier at the base to prevent young hatchlings from wandering out of our camera’s view. This barrier also provides exercise for the chick when it is big enough to start jumping up onto the barrier. The roost area is open to the flight pen and has a ledge that is about 8 feet (2.4 meters) off of the ground. There is a 5-inch-diameter (13 centimeters) pole leaning from the ground to the ledge; we call this the pole ladder. The condors can walk up or down this pole ladder to get to or from the nest; they can, of course, fly to the nest if they desire as well.

We consider a California condor chick to be fledged when it can fly to the higher perches in the pen, approximately 10 feet (3 meters) off the ground. When condor chicks fledge, they tend to be around 140 or 150 days old. The youngest bird to fledge here at the Safari Park was 123 days old. Our boy, Saticoy, has taken his own sweet time. He had been spending time perched on the roost with his parents. On August 6 (age 150 days), he walked down the pole ladder and started to explore the ground of the flight pen. His mother, Shatash, flew to the ground and protectively escorted him around, not letting him venture too far into the pen. He and Mom nibbled on some old food, drank from the pool, and stretched their wings in the sun. Later that day, he walked back up the pole ladder, accompanied by his dad, Sisquoc. Although it was an exciting day, full of new experiences, he didn’t fly.

In the flight pen, there is a large olive tree, where Sisquoc and Shatash like to perch. During one of his strolls into the pen on August 10 (age 154 days), Saticoy was able to climb up into the olive tree to perch with Sisquoc. He stayed there until the next day, spending his first night away from the familiarity of the nest. Mom and Dad roosted right next to him to keep a watchful eye. Despite another big day, he still didn’t fly, so no fledge.

On August 19 (age 163 days), after several days of walking around the pen, splashing in the pool, climbing in the olive tree, and starting to pick at food on his own, Saticoy FINALLY took the next step. He made a glorious 20-foot-long (6 meters) flight from the olive tree to the high perch. He landed next to Sisquoc, and for about two hours father and son sat high in the pen and sunned themselves. Saticoy had finally fledged!

When condor chicks fledge in the wild, it can be a long process as well. They often walk around the mouth of their nest cave, hopping about, testing their wings. They may hop or climb into nearby shrubs or trees to get a better vantage point. Very seldom do chicks just spring forth from their nest into the wild blue yonder. They usually need to exercise and build their abilities before embarking on such a dangerous venture. Mom and Dad are always present to escort or protect the chicks, too. Parent condors can be very vigilant and defensive of their chicks. After all, much energy and many resources went into producing just this one chick, so they try very hard to ensure success for their only nestling. One pair of condors in California actually chased a black bear away from their nest!

So what’s next for Saticoy? He’ll stay in the pen with his parents for a little while longer. He is still learning from them. In the wild, condor chicks stay with or around their parents for up to 18 months. We don’t let them stay that long here at the Park. If we did, the next breeding season would probably be compromised; the presence of the fledgling may prevent the parents from breeding the next year, or the parents may turn aggressive to the chick if they try to nest again. Soon, Saticoy will be removed from his parents so they can prepare for the next breeding season, and he will be introduced to other birds his age and an adult bird to act as a behavioral mentor.

In the meantime, it will be decided whether he will be a candidate for release in the wild (and where) or held back for the captive breeding program. I’ll keep you informed when this happens. Thanks again for all of your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick: Preparing to Fledge.