Condor Chick: Wing Exercise

Cuyamaca nibbles a parent's toe at that elusive edge.

Cuyamaca nibbles a parent’s toe at that elusive edge.

With her new, long wing feathers, California condor chick Cuyamaca is exercising her wings more often in the form of strong flapping. You will notice on Condor Cam that, as her wings gain more surface area, she will be able to lift her body off of the nest floor. She won’t be able to fly, but she’ll be a step closer. Plus, her legs are getting stronger and more coordinated, allowing her to jump higher. We expect her to be able to jump up onto the entry barrier of the nest box any day now. This usually happens between 90 and 110 days of age (June 23 to July 13). It could be earlier or later, as each chick develops at a different rate.

The barrier is 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall, so if she can jump up onto it, it’s not a long fall if she slips. Usually, the chicks are strong enough to jump down without slipping. Hopping up and down from the nest barrier exercises Cuyamaca’s wings, and perching on it helps improve her balance. She may even sleep on top of the barrier! From the barrier, Cuyamaca will be able to hop back into her nest, if she wants to, or she can hop into the adjoining roost area, of which most can be viewed via the Condor Cam. While out in the roost, she can rest or sleep in the shade, perch with her parents (if they are not perched out in the flight pen), or step out to the roost ledge to soak up the sun’s rays for the first time.

The ledge is about 8 feet (2.4 meters) from the ground: high enough to make the parents feel comfortable and secure in their nest but not as high as a condor nest in the wild. Cuyamaca may get near the edge, but she will be cautious in doing so, so she doesn’t teeter off. It is natural for condor chicks to explore and exercise on the edge of their nest cavities. Rarely do they fall out; in 30 years of raising California condors here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we have never seen a chick fall from its nest area prematurely.

Cuyamaca will fledge, or leave the nest, on her own terms. When she is ready, she will either jump to the floor of her flight pen or fly from the roost ledge to one of the perches in the pen. We have seen chicks do both: clumsily and tentatively parachute to the ground or gracefully fly all the way across the pen and land next to the parents. Chicks have fledged as early as 123 days of age and as late as 165 days. We consider them fledged when they perch up off of the ground while out in the pen. In future blog entries, I will explain what to expect once Cuyamaca fledges, as well as what is in store for her if she is released to the wild.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick: Getting Big!

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