Condor Chick Watching: Age 2 to 3 Weeks

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The chick on April 12

The chick on April 12

At two to three weeks of age, the real fun of condor chick-viewing begins! The chick is getting bigger, weighing between 500 and 1,200 grams (1.1 and 2.6 pounds) and can often be seen poking its head out from under a parent’s wing. The parents might be spending less time sitting on the chick, weather permitting, leaving it unattended for longer periods of time, possibly 30 minutes or so. Never fear! They are nearby, often just out of Condor Cam’s view, 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) away.

It is usually easier to observe feeding behavior at this age as well. The parents stand a little to the side of the chick now, so you may catch a glimpse of food being transferred from parent to chick. The chick’s crop (the bulge in the esophagus where food is stored) may be visible when it’s full. It is between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball and is a bald patch of skin. You will also witness a very common behavior called wing begging: the chick begs for food by flapping one or both of its stubby little wings and bobbing its head excitedly. This behavior can persist until after the chick fledges, or leaves its nest, at four to five months.

The chick hatched wearing a fluffy coat of white down feathers. The main function of down is insulation to keep a bird cool or warm, whatever its body needs. At this stage, the chick’s white down is starting to transition to gray. Sometimes this can make the chick look dirty or scruffy, but it is still as healthy as it ever has been. Both chick and parents frequently groom the feathers to make sure they are working the way they should be. These dark feathers also help the chick blend in with the substrate and the nest cave walls, since the parents are not covering the chick as much as they recently were.

Some viewers have noted that the chick looks like it has scabs on its head/neck or has wounds on its body, matting its down feathers. This is actually regurgitated food stuck to its face or body. Feeding can be quite exciting for the chick, and some food doesn’t always end up in its mouth! The chick obviously can’t take a bath at this age, but the food dries up, gets crusty, and flakes off, a major benefit of having a bald head! If you’ve seen the big condors eat at Condor Ridge at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or Elephant Odyssey at the San Diego Zoo, you can attest to the condors’ ability to keep clean after a messy meal. Also, the presence of flies in the nest is nothing to worry about. Keep in mind that condors are carnivores, feed their chicks via regurgitation, and nest in cavities (caves, crevices, etc.) that are often sheltered from the wind. All of these components add up to a very comfortable environment for flies as well as condors. Never fear: condors have excellent immune systems and are only mildly annoyed by the flies!

Happy viewing, and thanks so much for your support!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Watching: Hatch to 1 Week.