Chick Watching: Hatch to 1 Week

This California condor chick is being fed by a hand puppet. The chick you see on Condor Cam is fed by its parents.

Condor Cam at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park provides an opportunity to watch the inner workings of a condor nest, an experience usually limited to keepers and field biologists. We hope you are enjoying it as much as we are! Many viewers have expressed some concerns while watching the little California condor chick hatch and grow. Thank you so much for caring! The chick’s development and health are progressing perfectly. Parents Sisquoc and Shatash are doing an excellent job! Being able to determine if all is well in a nest can often be difficult, especially if you don’t have anything to which you can compare. I’d like to provide some developmental and behavioral guidelines that we consider to be normal for a healthy condor family.

The chick hatched on March 10, 2012, weighing around 190 grams (6.7 ounces). The hatching process can be grueling, so afterward the chick usually rests a lot and is brooded, or sat on, by the parents. We often call this “sitting tight,” as the parents are providing protection and warmth, especially while the newly hatched chick is drying off. With the chick being weak and wobbly, it 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 start providing food. They eat food that 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. Mmm! 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 parent is 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 crops are 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 that the chick was stepped on by the parents. In many species, ranging from hummingbirds to elephants, babies get slightly squished by the parents. 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 their eggshell for dietary calcium.

At the end of the condor chick’s first week of life it weighs around 300 grams (10.5 ounces). 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 Condor Cam. Stay tuned!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condors: Big Day Approaching.

24 Responses to Chick Watching: Hatch to 1 Week

  1. Thanks for the update, Ron. The chick is walking much better now. Growing so fast!

  2. I check on this little guy several times a day and am always thrilled to see the progress in the nest box! The other day I had to smile when he/she attacked a small feather. Thank you for making the condor cam available to all!!
    You are the greatest!.

  3. It’s been such a joy to watch this little guy since he hatched.

  4. This is absolutely fascinating! Thanks for all the great info. I was wondering about the hatch/current weights. It seems to have doubled in size since I watched it venture out of the shell Saturday morning. Thanks for the super update! What name was selected?

    Moderator’s note: We’ll announce the winning name soon ;-)

  5. Thank you very much Ron. I do not pass one day without sees to the baby condor. Regards from Costa Rica

  6. When will the chick start to venture out of the nest?

    • The chick will not leave the nest until it fledges at 5 to 6 months of age. But don’t worry, we have cameras that will show the outdoor area when that happens!

  7. Is that pretty pink skin on the chick’s head and neck as soft as it looks?

    • Yes, it is!

  8. Thanks for great views. I watch, enjoy and learn every day, all day long. ALL your cams are wonderful!

  9. Every time I check in on this cute little chick today it seems to be sleeping….SO CUTE!

  10. Just saw the chick on the Condor Cam. It is so cute and lively! I’ll be checking back often.

  11. absolutely love watching this little guy grow. My year old and I check on him several times a day. Love it thanks for making it possible :)

  12. I meant 4 year old. She loves watching him she will watch for a 1/2 hr at a time.

  13. Thank you for the interesting information. I have been comparing the baby condor with the baby eagles at Decorah. The condor seems to be growing so fast and also seems more independant than the eagle babies. This is such a priviledge to get to see. I wonder if we will be able to see the baby condor learning how to fly? Do you have any cameras that might be able to record that? Thank you again.

    Moderator’s note: We have another camera placed in the condor parents aviary, so yes, we hope to show the chick practicing its flying skills. Stay tuned!

  14. Where else are California condors planning to be released at? The ones that were bred at the Oregon Zoo, were planned to be released in the Columbia River valley.

    Condor Team responds: At the moment the only condor release sites are those that exist in California, Arizona, and Mexico. As their populations grow, new sites may be sought out.

  15. Thanks so much for the update, Robb. The condor restoration project has been so wonderfully successful! When I volunteer up at the zoo’s condor flight cage up on the Elephant Odyssey at the zoo, it gives me such a thrill when a guest tells me he or she has seen condors flying wild again! And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

  16. You list 160+ hatchings, but only 80 released. What happened to the other 80? How many breeding pairs do you have?

    • The California condor program includes a reintroduction program, but not all condor chicks are released. Some are important genetically and are kept in one of the four condor breeding programs. Others are used for education until they are needed genetically and so are sent to one of the zoos that have condors in public view such as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico, and Santa Barbara Zoo. The Safari Park currently has six breeding pairs.

  17. I have always been intrigued by condors, so I have been steaming your feed to my Spanish classes on my interactive SMARTBoard at Lincoln High School (Thief River Falls, MN) when it is not being used for other instruction. Coincidentally, we are studying environment issues, including extinction of species; so this is very timely and appropriate. This has generated some great discussions, and the reactions of my students to the movements of the chick and parents are immediate and quite vocal.

    Moderator’s note: That’s great to hear, Ene! Did you know we have been releasing condors into Baja California?

  18. what size it is the artificial nest and to what height is it?

    • The pair nests are about 8 x 8 x 8 ft

  19. Naature is wonderful if only humans didn’t interfere with nature. There is a purpose for the wildlife.