The Condors Next Door

Pshan rubs his head on the roosting platform next to Towich.

Screenshot: Pshan rubs his head on the nest ledge next to Towich.

Normally, at this time of the year, Condor Cam viewing is a little slow. The chick has been moved to our socialization pen in preparation for eventual release to the wild and the parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, won’t start their breeding season until late October/early November. But this year is different! Sisquoc and Shatash’s neighbors are still raising their chick, and we were able to shift the Condor Cam pen camera to peek in on them.

The male is this pair is Towich (pronounced TOH-witch) and the female is Sulu (SOO-loo). Towich is wearing yellow wing tags, numbered 135; Sulu is not wearing any tags. Towich hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo, one of our valuable partners in the California Condor Recovery Program, in 1996. He was released to the wild in southern California in 1997 but was recaptured and returned to captivity when he started showing interest in humans. More than likely, he was fed by people when he was young, causing him to lose his wariness of them. He is no longer suitable as a release bird. Towich’s story serves as an essential reminder that when viewing condors in the wild (or any wildlife, for that matter), it is of the utmost importance that we do not feed them or approach them too closely. Getting that extreme close-up picture or having the thrill of feeding a wild animal is not worth having the condor spend the rest of its life in a cage.

Sulu hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1990, and she has lived here with us her whole life. Towich is her second mate. She was separated from her first mate in 2000, when it was determined that she and Towich were a better genetic pairing. The pairing process in a breeding program can sound a bit clinical, especially in a species such as the California condor, whose population dropped to only 22 birds in 1982, but we have to be very careful who gets paired with whom in order to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. Despite the lack of romance in being paired together, Towich and Sulu have developed into an awesome couple. They seldom squabble over food; they often perch near each other in the flight pen; they have excellent nest exchanges when incubating eggs or brooding chicks; and they seem to like to sit or lay down together, along with their chick, in the nest box or the roost.

The chick they are raising this year is Pshan (Puh-SHAWN), and he is 144 days old (as of September 17, 2013). Towich and Sulu are not Pshan’s biological parents, though. Towich and Sulu’s egg was needed at the Los Angeles Zoo this year, so we delivered it to that zoo before hatching. It hatched under a different pair of condors and will eventually be released somewhere in California. Now that Towich and Sulu were without an egg, we had the opportunity to give them a different egg, one that we were planning on raising using a condor puppet. One of our condor pairs is not very good at sharing nesting duties and often squabbles over chicks when they hatch. Therefore, to ensure the safety of the chick, we don’t let that pair parent-rear anymore. Pshan is the chick that hatched from the egg fostered to Towich and Sulu. Fostering is a common technique used in avian breeding. The parents usually accept the new egg and hatch it and raise the chick as if it was their own.

Like Sisquoc and Shatash, Towich and Sulu have done an exemplary job in raising their chick. Pshan hatched April 27, 2013, and is about a month younger than Cuyamaca. He is starting to come out onto the nest ledge more often. By the end of the month, he should be ready to fledge, or leave the nest. At that point, he will receive his wing tag and be moved to the socialization pen to be introduced to Cuyamaca and the other chicks from this year.

Many Condor Cam viewers have requested photos of Cuyamaca in her new pen. We, hopefully, will be posting some soon. She is handling the socialization process like a champ.

Also, we received word from the field biologists at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge recently. Saticoy, the Condor Cam chick from last season (and Cuyamaca’s older brother), has not been released to the wild yet. He is doing very well in the pre-release pen and should be flying free by the end of September! When this happens, we’ll let you know and, we hope, will have some pictures to show you, too.

Have fun with Towich, Sulu, and Pshan!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Moving Day.

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