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california condor

5

Condor Saticoy at Release Site

Condors Nechuwa, Sukilamu, and Saticoy take in the view.

Saticoy (far right) and his fellows are acclimating to their new home in the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Some of our devoted condor fans have been asking about Saticoy, the California condor chick who hatched and was raised by his parents while on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam last year. For those who are new to Condor Cam, Saticoy is the older sibling to this year’s chick, Cuyamaca.

On April 11, Saticoy was transported to his release site with two other condors who hatched at the Safari Park last year, Nechuwa and Sukilamu. These three young males are being housed in the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in a flight pen with a wonderful view of the quiet, wide-open spaces of the Refuge. Beautiful wildflowers growing all over the grassy, rolling hills lead to the canyons and mountains that provide prime condor nesting habitat. The Refuge is located just north of Santa Barbara in southern California’s Kern County.

The flight pen is visited by curious condor neighbors.

The flight pen acts as a hacking site, or a place where the young birds become familiar with their surroundings before they are released to the wild. They can acclimatize to the weather and wind. Also, there are 66 other condors flying free in this region, and many of them frequent the hillside where the flight pen is located. This allows the resident condors to meet the new, young release candidates; when the young birds are released, they won’t be complete strangers to the free-flying condors. When we put Saticoy (wearing wing tag #36), Nechuwa (wing tag #37), and Sukilamu (wing tag #43) in the flight pen, four wild condors were already watching from the outside, curious about their new neighbors.

Saticoy and his pen mates will stay in the flight pen through the summer. If all goes well, the field biologists will release them to the wild sometime in September, about 18 months after Saticoy’s hatch. As you can see, California condor development is a long and involved process!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick: 1st Exam.

3

Condor Chick Watching: Age 30 to 45 Days

Cuyamaca does some preening in the nest box.

Cuyamaca does some preening in the nest box.

At about one month of age, our California condor chick Cuyamaca (pronounced “Kwee-ah-MACK-ah” and meaning “through the clouds” in Kumeyaay), should weigh around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms). The parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest. If the weather is still cool or it’s raining, they may continue to brood overnight until the weather improves. Even though the parents are increasing their time away from the chick, they remain VERY vigilant and protective of their nest and ESPECIALLY their chick. Some field biologists have even seen wild condor parents chasing black bears away from the nest area!

Up until now, the chick has been scooting around the nest on its tarsal joints. We refer to that as a tarsal crawl. It’s not uncommon, at this age, to see the chick standing all the way up on its feet, teetering around the nest, holding its wings out for balance. As its legs get sturdier, the chick may even approach the parent, begging for food. The wing-begging behavior we’ve been seeing will get more pronounced: lots of wing-flapping, head-bobbing, and trying to position itself in front of the parent.

It is possible that the parents, who are offering larger quantities of food per feeding session, might be providing a small amount of fur/hair in the chick’s diet. (Part of the adults’ diet includes mammals, like rats and rabbits.) Condors can digest just about every part of the animals they eat, except for fur. This fur accumulates in the digestive tract and is eventually regurgitated as waste. We refer to this as casting. A condor’s cast is composed of predominantly fur, whereas a cast from an owl has fur and bones; owls can’t digest bones, but condors can. We have seen condor chicks cast hair pellets as young as three weeks of age. When the chick casts, it throws its head forward several times, mouth open, until the pellet is ejected from its mouth. It can look like the chick is in trouble, but it is perfectly normal and good for the chick.

At around 45 days of age, Cuyamaca will get its first health exam. We will obtain a blood sample for the lab to make sure the chick is healthy and send a portion of this sample to a lab in the Genetics Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. From this blood sample, the geneticists can determine if Cuyamaca is male or female. Also during the exam, we will weigh Cuyamaca (the chick should weigh between 7.7 and 8.8 pounds or 3.5 and 4 kilograms), and we will inject a transponder chip as a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian. Most importantly, this exam allows us to administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, a disease that originated in Africa and was accidentally introduced to North America by humans. North American animals, including condors, usually don’t have a natural immune response to West Nile virus, so we are trying to give our chicks as much of a head start as we can.

This exam will be the first time that Cuyamaca will see humans, so it will naturally be disturbing for the chick. We try to be as quick as we can (9 to 10 minutes) to minimize the disturbance. Additionally, we will keep Cuyamaca covered with a towel to reduce its exposure to humans and to provide it a bit of security. Sisquoc and Shatash are usually away from the nest when we perform the procedure to keep them as calm as possible, as well. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want Cuyamaca to become accustomed to or feel reassured by our presence; we want it to be a wild condor, uninterested and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico.

Cuyamaca will look very large at this age compared to how big it was at hatch, but remember that it is still less than half of its adult weight. There is much more growth and fun to come on Condor Cam!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Watching: Age 3 to 4 Weeks.

1

Condor Chick Watching: Hatch to 1 Week

Shatash sits tight.

Shatash sits tight.

As many regular Condor Cam viewers witnessed, our California condor chick hatched on March 26, 2013, weighing around 180 grams (6.3 ounces). The hatching process can be grueling, so afterward, the chick usually rests a lot and is brooded (sat on) by the parents. We often call this sitting tight. The parents are providing protection and warmth, especially while the newly hatched chick is drying off.

Being weak and wobbly, the chick often is hard to feed, but that is okay. The chick is getting nutrients from the yolk sac that it absorbed into its belly just before hatching. After about a day, the chick can hold its head steady, and the parents then start providing food. They eat food we offer out in the flight pen, and then bring it to the chick in their crop (a bulge in their esophagus where they can store up to 3 pounds or 1.3 kilograms of food). The food is regurgitated for the chick, providing a warm and nutritious meal. Mmmmmmm!

The diet we provide varies, depending on the day, but it can include rabbits, rats, trout, beef spleen, and ground meat. While the chick is very young, it is often difficult to witness a feeding, since the parents are standing directly above the chick, blocking the camera’s view. If you see a parent slightly bobbing its head while standing over the chick, feeding is occurring. Feeding sessions are fairly short for small chicks, since their crop is only about the size of a lima bean.

Both California condor parents provide care for the chick. This drive is very strong, and it’s not uncommon to see the parents vying for time with the chick, especially immediately after hatching. This happens in the form of leaning into each other, pushing one’s way onto the chick; scooping the chick from one parent to the other; or nipping at neck skin or tugging at feathers to get the other parent to move. Usually, one parent acts more dominantly and controls the interactions a little more than the other parent. This time, mother Shatash took this dominant role, despite her being much smaller than Sisquoc. Other years, we’ve seen Sisquoc take this role. We interpret this periodic shift in dominance, and the other bird’s acceptance of this shift, as a very good trait in a condor pair. As time passes after hatch, they settle into a routine, and the nest exchanges become much calmer.

One viewer concern was the number of times the chick was stepped on by the parents. In many species, ranging from hummingbirds to elephants, babies get slightly squished by a parent. Usually, it’s just a minor misstep, and the baby lets the parent know with a brief vocalization. Condors are no different or no more fragile. They are very hearty little chicks! As young as four days of age, we have seen chicks sifting through the sand in the nest, picking up items on their own. We’ve even seen chicks swallowing small pieces of its eggshell for dietary calcium.

At the end of the condor chick’s first week of life it weighs around 10.5 ounces (300 grams). It is getting much stronger but is not venturing around the nest very much yet. Coordination is improving, and we can witness social interactions with the parents: nibbling, preening, and nuzzling. Every once in a while, you may see the chick quivering, almost like it has the hiccups. It is actually vocalizing. Condors don’t have a true voice box, or syrinx, like other birds, but they can make crude, primitive vocalizations. Adults may grunt, wheeze, or hiss. Chicks can make a high-pitched, scraping squawk, usually when begging or out from under the parents for too long.

The next few weeks of development are very exciting, not just for the condor family, but for any of us watching on the Safari Park’s Condor Cam. Stay tuned!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, The Next Chapter in the Adventures of Saticoy.

10

Next Chapter in Adventures of Condor Saticoy

California condor chick, Saticoy, as seen on Condor Cam in April, 2012.

California condor chick, Saticoy, as seen on Condor Cam in April 2012.

Our Condor Cam superstar from last season, Saticoy, is heading out into the wild blue yonder! We have recently received notification from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that Saticoy will be released to the wild in California.

For those that are new to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam, Saticoy is one of our California condor chicks who hatched here last season and is the sibling of this year’s Condor Cam chick. He actually hatched live online on the morning of March 10, 2012. Thousands of lucky viewers logged on to experience this one-of-a-kind event.

Here at the Safari Park, we have been video-monitoring our condor nests for over 20 years, but 2012 marked the first time that a condor nest was available for viewing by the public. The parents (father Sisquoc and mother Shatash) did an amazing job of feeding and caring for Saticoy as he hatched and grew under the watchful and admiring eyes of all of his fans. When he hatched, he weighed around 180 grams and had a wingspan of only about 5 inches. Now, at 1 year of age, he weighs 17 pounds (nearly 8 kilograms) and sports a 9 1/2-foot wingspan!

Saticoy and two of our other youngsters, Nechuwa and Sukilamu, had their pre-shipment examinations on April 2. Our veterinarian staff gave them all health exams and took blood samples, making sure that they are free from disease before they are released to the wild condor population. They will be transported on April 11 to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in the Los Padres National Forest of southern California. There, they will receive new wing tags, wing transmitters (so the field biologists can track them), and be socialized with another group of condors before they are finally allowed to fly free. The release date has not been set yet. It could be any time from late summer to mid-winter. We’ll try to keep you up to date on release location and date as we get notice.

With any luck, Saticoy will thrive in the wild and use the experience he gained from his parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, and his release mentor and cohort here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. As you stay tuned for more in the adventures of Saticoy, enjoy watching his younger sibling grow up on Condor Cam, and remember to vote for a name for this chick by April 15!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

4

Condor Egg is Hatching!

Shatash continues to incubate her pipping egg.

Shatash continues to incubate her pipping egg.

The big hatch day is quickly approaching, and our devoted California condor parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, have been patiently caring for and incubating their egg here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Well, actually, they’ve been caring for a wooden egg that we refer to as a “dummy” egg. We use a dummy egg as a type of placeholder until their real egg is ready to hatch. It’s not as if we don’t trust them with a real egg; on the contrary, they have proven to be very reliable parents! When we artificially incubate the eggs and let the parents sit on a dummy egg, we can more closely and conveniently monitor the egg’s progress and offer any necessary assistance without disturbing the doting parents. When the real egg is about to hatch, we carefully switch it with the dummy egg.

California condor eggs start the hatching process after 53 to 56 days of incubation. The process can first be seen when the air cell begins to quickly expand. The air cell is a pocket of air at the big end of the egg. Next time you crack open a chicken egg at home, look for the air cell. Once the air cell expands against the embryo’s beak, the membrane of the air cell is pierced, initiating pulmonary respiration. This is the first time the condor chick is breathing air. The chick is breathing in more oxygen than can enter through the pores of the eggshell. Consequently, carbon dioxide builds up in the egg. This buildup stimulates the chick to start pushing from inside the egg until the shell is finally broken. A dime-sized bump is raised in the shell. This is called a pip.

Once the chick pips the shell, more oxygen can enter the egg, and the chick continues with the hatching process. Blood vessels lining the interior of the egg are shut off and the yolk sac is retracted into the chick via its umbilicus. We obviously cannot see these processes, but we can see the chick breathing, pushing or poking at the pip site, nibbling on shell membranes, and enlarging the pip site by breaking more shell. Every once in a while, we can even hear the chick squawk from inside!

When the yolk sac is fully retracted, and the blood vessels are ready, the chick begins to rotate inside the egg. As the chick pushes against the interior of the shell, it rotates inside the egg, breaking shell as it does so. As you can imagine, this is a very tiring activity for the little chick! The parents don’t break off any new shell for the chick, but they do remove broken pieces of shell. When the chick is almost fully rotated, it starts to push harder inside the egg, resulting in the shell expanding until the top of the egg comes off. This is called capping. At this point, the parents help the chick more, removing the capped shell or even pulling the bottom of the eggshell off of the chick. This is when we consider the chick hatched!

The pip-to-hatch period can vary for each species of bird, but for California condors it can last between 48 and 72 hours. We have seen some parent-hatched chicks take a little longer (~85 hours) to hatch with no ill effects.

Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg started the hatching process at 2 a.m., Sunday, March 24, when the chick pipped the shell. We returned the pipped egg to the parents at around noon, about 10 hours after pip. We quietly snuck into the nest box while they were out eating in their flight pen to exchange the real egg for the dummy egg. Shatash returned to the nest and settled back onto the egg, but now it is moving a bit and squawking underneath her!

If all continues to go well, we are expecting the egg to hatch around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, March 27. Of course, it could hatch before OR after that time, so keep checking in on Condor Cam. A good time range to expect a hatch is from 8 a.m. on Tuesday, March 26, to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27.

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

7

Condor Egg is Fertile!

A California condor egg is examined.

A California condor egg is examined.

We have good news to report: Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg is FERTILE! (See previous post, New Egg for Condors Sisquoc and Shatash.)

California condor Shatash laid the egg on January 27, and we are expecting it to begin the hatching process around March 23. So, it is over one third of the way through its 56-day incubation period. Condor Cam viewers have been watching Sisquoc and Shatash take turns caring for and incubating their egg. Well, actually, they’ve been caring for a wooden egg that we refer to as a “dummy” egg. We use a dummy egg as a type of placeholder until their real egg is ready to hatch.

It’s not as if we don’t trust them with a real egg; on the contrary, they have proven to be very reliable parents! When we place the egg in an incubator and let the parents sit on a dummy egg, we can more closely and conveniently monitor the egg’s progress and offer any necessary assistance without disturbing the doting parents. We weigh the egg every day and candle it every few days. When we candle the egg, we hold it up to a bright light that illuminates the interior of the egg, allowing us to see inside. We can monitor blood vessels, membrane development, embryo growth, and movement. By weighing and candling during the incubation period, we can make sure that the embryo is progressing normally, and if it isn’t, we can prepare to offer help if and when it is needed.

If all goes well during incubation and the egg begins the hatching process, we carefully switch it with the dummy egg while the parents are out in the flight pen eating or sunning. They usually don’t even realize we switched eggs on them; they just return to their incubation duties.

As previously mentioned, both parents take turns sitting on the egg. An incubation bout may only last a few minutes before the parent gets off of the egg and leaves the nest box, or it may sit for the whole day. When the parents take turns on the egg, we call it a nest exchange. Sometimes a nest exchange is immediate: one parent enters the nest, and the other parent gets off of the egg and leaves. Other times, a nest exchange may be long, leaving the egg unattended for up to 30 minutes while the parents are outside eating, bathing, sunning, or socializing. During a long nest exchange, the egg cools down, but not usually enough to endanger the egg, especially with successful and experienced parents like Sisquoc and Shatash. Many times both parents are in the nest area (one may perch in the nearby roost while the other sits on the egg) seemingly keeping each other company.

During nesting season, California condors can be surprisingly territorial and defensive of their nest. Usually, they are very mild-mannered and calm, but when they have a precious egg or chick in the area, they defend it. One of the field biologists in California reported a pair of condors swooping and chasing a black bear away from their nest! Despite being very tough and strong birds, they can be very gentle when it comes to caring for their egg or their chick. Keep checking in on Condor Cam to follow the progress of Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg and eventual chick!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

5

Phantom Condor Chick Appears

A young, unmarked California condor soars in the skies of Baja California, Mexico.

A young, unmarked California condor soars in the skies of Baja California, Mexico. Photo credit: Juan Vargas

In the spring of 2012, our newest wild California condor pair in Baja California, Mexico, identified as #361 and #373, continued to show signs that they were incubating an egg by being more aggressive to the other condors around the feeding site and by spending a lot of time in a remote area dotted by deep canyons and precipitous cliffs. Their GPS wing transmitters indicated a near-exact position of where the nest would be out in the wilderness by latitude and longitude readings. Plugging these coordinates into our handheld GPS, Program Field Manager Juan Vargas and I struck out in September 2012 to try to find the nest, knowing that it was about 15 miles (24 kilometers) out to the remote south of our condor field station.

We traveled light and fast but only made it three quarters of the way there after three days through rough terrain and vegetation. With dwindling food and clean water, we decided to head back. Also, the GPS maps indicated that the nest was very high in precipitous terrain, and we were not carrying sufficient ropes and equipment to deal with it safely. Within condor release programs in the United States, if the nests are too difficult to find or ascend to, scientists rely on waiting for the young to fledge and show up at feeding sites, where they can be trapped and tagged later. We decided to do the same, since verifying the young at the nest would be too costly in terms of helicopter time, which would be the only way we could safely access it.

The chick and its mother, #???

The chick and its tagged mother at rest.

The downside to this decision was that the chick would not be inoculated for West Nile virus and would run the risk of catching the disease if we could not administer the vaccine. From our field station, Catalina Porras and crew analyzed both radiotelemetry and GPS data and estimated that the chick probably fledged in October. Over the three months that followed, only the behavior of the parents at the feeding site and their movement patterns continued to give us hope that there was indeed a chick flying around in the backcountry. We continued to scan the skies for a “tagless” condor with a gray head.

Finally, on February 4, 2013, Juan and a crew member observed a juvenile condor showing behavior that stood out from the others. Further scrutiny revealed that the black-headed youngster had no tags. It was hard to keep the excitement contained as we realized that the phantom chick had survived! As the new chick becomes accustomed to the other wild condors and the feeding site over the next few months, we are hoping to trap it, administer the West Nile virus vaccine, and tag it with GPS transmitters so we can safely follow its progress.Three condor pairs are looking like they may produce young this season. With luck, we may find more dark-headed condor young in the skies over the Baja mountains next year as well.

Michael Wallace is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Releasing Condors: Not So Easy.

7

New Egg for Condors Sisquoc and Shatash

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.

9

Condor Moving Day

Ron and fellow keeper Fatima Lujan hold Saticoy, who now sports red wing tag #36.

Saticoy, our California condor who hatched and was raised by his parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, while viewers watched on our Condor Cam, has officially flown the coop… in a manner of speaking. We removed him from his parents’ flight pen at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s California condor breeding facility and moved him to our remote socialization pen, approximately one mile from the main part of the Safari Park. There, he will be isolated from any human activity and socialized with other fledglings his age: males Siyi (pronounced “SEE-yee”), Nechuwa (pronounced “neh-CHOO-wah”), and Sukilamu (pronounced “soo-kee-LA-moo”). Saticoy will also be living with a 1-year-old juvenile female condor named Ihiy (pronounced “EE-hee”) and an 8-year-old adult female named Xananan (pronounced “ha-NA-nan”).

California condors expected to be released to the wild are called “release candidates.” We raise all of our condor chicks as if they are release candidates until we hear otherwise from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversees the California Condor Recovery Program. We have yet to hear if and/or where any of this year’s fledglings will be released; it may not be determined until December.

Release candidates are isolated from humans. We offer their food through a chute in the wall. The pools are drained and rinsed from the outside of the pen. We don’t pick up any of their old food. The only time the birds see us is during a medical procedure: affixing wing tags, pre-shipment examinations, or West Nile Virus inoculations. These generally are not enjoyable experiences for the young condors, and that is what we want them to learn from us before they are shipped to the wild. We don’t want them to associate humans with anything beneficial. We are hoping to foster behaviors that wild condors would have: avoiding human activity and hazardous, artificial situations. Survival rates for condors that become accustomed to humans and human activity are very low.

One of Saticoy’s new penmates has a very important role; Xananan, the adult, is acting as the young birds’ new “mentor.” Her job is to facilitate the socialization of the fledglings. Condors are very social and, like us, need to learn the rules of how to interact in a group. The parent condors started this process when the chicks hatched and continued it as the youngsters eventually fledged. Now that they are no longer living with their parents, Xananan will further their education. She will be the dominant bird in the pen, often displacing the fledglings from perches or roost sites or pushing them from the food until she has eaten first. The dominant birds at a site are usually the biggest ones and often the most experienced. The young condors need to learn how to interact with these dominant and pushy birds in order to be successful in the wild. Fortunately, for all four of this year’s chicks, their parents gave them all a big head start.

The socialization pen is very large with lots of space to fly around and exercise wings. There are several large oak snags on which to perch or roost. Also, there are two pools from which to drink or bathe. There are several ground-level perches and boulders to hop around on as well. It is interesting to see the social development of each bird. They can choose to perch next to whichever bird they wish, so they really get to know each other well. We have learned that young condors that aren’t well socialized tend not to be successful once they are released to the wild.

Before Saticoy was moved, we were able to affix a wing tag to his right wing. He is wearing a red wing tag with the number 36. We normally put the last two digits of the condors’ studbook numbers on the tags. Saticoy’s studbook number, the official number by which he is known in the California Condor Recovery Program, is 636. This wing tag helps to identify Saticoy so we can differentiate him from the other fledglings; they all have their own wing tag numbers. The wing tags serve the same purpose as leg bands do for any of the other birds you might see at the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park. We just can’t use leg bands on the condors. One reason is that the leg bands would get encrusted with urates during urohydrosis, and it would become impossible to read the numbers on the band. Urohydrosis is the process in which condors, and all other New World vultures, keep cool. They excrete uric acid, or urates, on their bare legs. When this liquid evaporates, it cools the skin and the underlying blood vessels – similar to how sweating keeps us cool. Another reason condors get wing tags is that they are so strong, they can just bend the leg bands right off of their legs!

Saticoy was also weighed before he was moved to his new pen. He weighed in at 7.95 kilograms (17.5 pounds), very close to his adult weight. For those that don’t remember, he weighed only about 180 grams (6.3 ounces) when he hatched on March 10!

Thanks again for all of the interest, support, and great comments and questions over the past 5 1/2 months. It has been awesome to see how well the Condor Cam was received by all of Sisquoc, Shatash, and Saticoy’s new “family” of fans. It has been an honor to be able to acquaint you with these amazing, beautiful, and majestic birds! We hope to continue Condor Cam. The next breeding season usually starts around November, with eggs being laid around January. We would like to introduce you to another pair of condors, so you can get to know them as well as you got to know Sisquoc and Shatash. Please keep checking for any other updates we may post about Saticoy. Even though he is no longer on Condor Cam, his story is far from over!

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

5

Condor Chick: Preparing to Fledge

Saticoy, now 123 days old, gazes at that ledge.

One of my favorite sayings is “Boring is good.” When things are boring, everything is going according to plan; excitement is often the result of something going awry. As many Condor Cam viewers have experienced, the rearing process for a California condor can be long and slow—some may even say boring. It makes sense, though, for a condor to develop so slowly. It has lots of growing to do. When our chick, Saticoy, hatched, he weighed approximately 6.3 ounces (180 grams). When he reaches his fledge weight of 17 pounds (8 kilograms) or more, he will have increased his hatch weight times 44! (I have only increased my birth weight times 19.)

On June 28, at 111 days of age, Saticoy took his most recent step toward leaving the nest: he jumped up onto the barrier between his nest box and the adjoining roost area. He quickly hopped back into his nest, but that’s okay. There’s no hurry to fledge, or leave the nest, just yet; his feathers still need time to fill in all the way. In the meantime, hopping up and down from the barrier exercises his muscles and improves his balance. Any day now, he will hop into the roost area on the other side of the barrier. Here, he can look into the flight pen where his parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, are and will be able to warm himself in the sun, if he so chooses.

The next step of Saticoy’s journey will be to fledge. When he is ready, he will jump off of the 8-foot-tall (2.4 meters) nest ledge. He will either slow his fall to the ground below the ledge or fly to a nearby perch. We consider him fledged when he can get up on a perch by himself. The youngest we have seen a condor chick fledge here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is 123 days old (Saticoy is 123 days old on July 10). Sometimes chicks have waited until over 165 days. It all depends on the chick.

The parents tend to be very vigilant during this phase of their chick’s development. It could appear over-protective to us, but keep in mind that they have invested an entire breeding season and lots of energy into this one chick. It benefits them greatly to make sure that their sole offspring is safe, healthy, and strong. The parents will usually perch and/or roost near the fledgling. They also will join him when he finally starts going to the feeding area of the flight pen. Most of the time, though, they will push him aside and eat first, feeding him when they are done. In condor culture, the bigger, more dominant birds usually eat first, while the subordinate birds wait their turn. The earlier Saticoy learns this from his parents, the better he will assimilate into a wild population after he is released. Don’t worry! Sisquoc and Shatash won’t let Saticoy starve. They will continue to feed him even when he is out in the flight pen. Eventually, he will eat more and more on his own.

Depending on Saticoy’s development and activity levels, we will switch the Condor Cam view from the nest box/roost area to the flight pen. You’ll be able to see the roost area, most of the perches in the pen, the feeding area, shade areas created by plants, and the pool, where he can either drink on his own or bathe (one of my favorite condor activities to observe!). The view will be wide, so detail will be harder to discern. Also, we do minimal maintenance in the pen once the chick is large enough to look over the nest box barrier, so the pen has lots of plant growth and dried food (animal carcasses) in it. We limit our activities in/near chick pens so as not to expose the chick to humans, thus desensitizing them to our presence. We have found that chicks raised in isolation from humans tend to be more successful once they are released to the wild. The flight pen won’t look as nice as an exhibit you might see at the Zoo or the Safari Park, but Sisquoc and Shatash prefer it that way, if it means we stay away from their precious chick!

Thanks so much to all of our faithful and dedicated Condor Cam viewers. Soon, your support and devotion will be rewarded when our “little big guy” spreads his wings and takes that next step. Rest assured, though, that Saticoy’s story will be far from over!

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