New Egg for Condors Sisquoc and Shatash

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A condor flies to its nest box in the Safari Park's "Condorminium" complex.

A condor flies to its nest box in the Safari Park’s “Condorminium” complex.

Welcome back to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam! The Condor Cam provides a rare look inside an active California condor nest. Over the next seven months, you will be able to witness incubation behavior, the hatch of a chick, its growth, and its eventual fledge (leaving of the nest). Another exciting California condor breeding season is upon us. Our third egg of the season was laid on January 27, 2013. The proud parents are last year’s Condor Cam stars Sisquoc (pronounced “SISS-kwawk”) and Shatash (pronounced “shah-TAHSH”). Sisquoc is the male, and he is wearing yellow wing tags (#28). Shatash, the female, is not wearing any wingtags. Also, Sisquoc is visibly larger than Shatash. He is the largest condor here at the Park, weighing in at 25 pounds (11 kilograms).

Sisquoc was the first California condor ever hatched in a zoo (his egg was laid in the wild and brought to the San Diego Zoo for incubation). He emerged from his shell on March 30, 1983, and news of his hatching triggered an outpouring of mail from all over the world. Congratulatory letters were sent by conservationists, zoos, governments, school classrooms, and many individuals, all wanting to help with the condor project. And look at him now—time flies, doesn’t it?

Shatash hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo, one of our partners in the California Condor Recovery Program. Her father was the first condor to hatch at the Safari Park (again, from a wild-laid egg), back in 1985. Sisquoc and Shatash have been paired together since 1993. This is their 22nd egg. Sixteen chicks have hatched, and Sisquoc and Shatash have raised five of them themselves, including last year’s Condor Cam chick, named Saticoy. The other chicks were raised by keepers who used a condor puppet so the chicks wouldn’t imprint on their human caretakers. Sisquoc and Shatash have proven to be great and reliable parents.

California condors tend to be monogamous and share ALL nest duties: incubating the egg, brooding the chick, feeding the chick, and defending the nest. Throughout incubation you will see Sisquoc and Shatash take turns sitting on the egg to keep it warm. You may see them roll or turn the egg periodically. This gentle egg movement is crucial for the development of the growing embryo. Incubation bouts can be very short—just a few minutes—or birds can sit for two or three days, so don’t be alarmed! Sometimes the parents will sit together in the nest. Condor eggs incubate at about 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius). Condors have a long incubation period; we are expecting the egg to “pip,” or start hatching, after 55 days of incubation, around March 23, 2013.

Sisquoc and Shatash’s new egg is very valuable to the condor population. California condors are critically endangered. In 1982, they were on the road to extinction, with only 22 birds in the world. Today, through breeding programs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Oregon Zoo, and the World Center for Birds of Prey (in Boise, Idaho), as well as intensive field management in the wild, the population is up to 404 birds. It’s a nice population increase, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. This egg, and eventual chick, represents the next step in the California condor story – and you get to witness it on Condor Cam!

Stay tuned for future blogs with egg updates. If you have any questions about what you’re seeing, feel free to ask them in the “Comments” section at the end of this post, and we’ll do our best to provide answers. Happy viewing!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Saticoy’s Siblings.