Condor Chick: First Health Exam

Saticoy at 45 days old

On April 23, California condor chick Saticoy received its first health exam. We normally conduct this exam at around 45 days of age. The goal was to obtain a blood sample for our labs, administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, inject a microchip for identification, and weigh Saticoy.

The first step in this process is to separate the parents from the chick. Of course, the parents (father Sisquoc and mother Shatash) don’t want any invaders in the nest and do their best to defend the chick and keep it safe, as all good parents do. Adjacent to the flight pen, we have a shift pen, used to safely and calmly move large or dangerous animals from one area to another. We offer all of the condors’ diet in the shift pen, so Sisquoc and Shatash are very comfortable entering it for every meal. We shifted Sisquoc into the pen and kept him there until after the exam. From his shift pen, he cannot see the nest area, so he was unaware that we were even in his nest, thus keeping him very calm. He ate and waited patiently until he had access back into his flight pen.

Shatash was not shifted but instead was able to see us go into her nest. We posted one keeper in the nest entryway to keep Shatash out while another keeper entered the nest and covered little Saticoy with a towel. This is the first time that Saticoy had ever seen a person and was understandably nervous and defensive, hissing and lunging at the intruder. Once under the cover of the towel, Saticoy calmed down. The chick was then brought into the adjoining vestibule where our veterinarian staff was waiting.

First, the veterinarian obtained a blood sample from Saticoy’s leg. This sample was sent to the lab to make sure the chick is healthy. Also, our geneticists can determine if Saticoy is male or female from this sample. Next, a vaccine for West Nile virus was administered. This disease originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to North America by humans. North American animals, including condors, usually don’t have a natural immune response to the virus, so we are trying to give all chicks a head start. A microchip was injected under Saticoy’s skin. This chip is a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat at the veterinarian. The veterinarian then gave a quick health assessment, checking Saticoy’s eyes, nares (nostrils), beak, feet, legs, wings, and abdomen. Lastly, we weighed Saticoy to make sure the chick was growing on schedule.

While the exam took place, a third keeper was able to enter the nest to clean the camera domes and make sure there were no hazards in the nest cavity. The whole exam, from capture to release, took only seven minutes!

Once the exam was over, Saticoy was returned to the nest, and Shatash was allowed to approach and check on her chick. As previously mentioned, Saticoy was rightfully disturbed by this process, despite our best intentions to minimize stress. Although we feel bad that Saticoy was so nervous, it is actually good for the chick that it was not comfortable in our presence. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want Saticoy to become accustomed to or feel reassured by humans; we want the chick to be a wild condor, uninterested and wary of humans, so that it may someday fly free in California, Arizona, or Mexico. Condors that show an affinity for humans seldom survive in the wild. For several minutes, Saticoy showed defensive posture, hissing at everything, even Mother.

Shatash slowly approached her chick and nervously preened it, eventually soothing it. That is the reason we shifted only one parent; we wanted the other parent present to calm the chick after the exam. About 10 minutes later, Saticoy was showing proper begging behavior, resulting in a feeding session from Shatash. With everyone appearing calmer, Sisquoc was let out of his shift pen. Approximately 20 minutes after that, he also went in to feed Saticoy. If he was alerted to our presence and was upset, he would have immediately entered the nest to check on his chick.

So far, the health exam looks to have been extremely successful. The blood work showed that Saticoy is healthy, and the veterinarian’s initial inspection looked great. The chick’s eyes and nares were clear, the feet, legs, and wings were solid, and vitality was strong. Saticoy weighed 7.7 pounds (3.55 kilograms) and was approximately the size of a bowling ball. Lastly, today we received the sex results from the Genetics Lab: Saticoy is a boy!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read Ron’s previous post, Condor Chick: 30 to 45 Days. Watch the chick daily on Condor Cam!

22 Responses to Condor Chick: First Health Exam

  1. Its A Boy! Ha Ha I knew it!
    All the best to such an amazing team and its BIG Baby!
    ( smile)

  2. I have been watching Saticoy since day 1. He is just the best!! I have also been watching a red tail hawk nest with 3 eayes and a great blue heron nest with 4 babies and one egg from Cornell in Ithica, NY. Saticoy is my favorite! Condors are just fascinating. Thank you so much for this opportunity to watch Saticoy grow!! Wish I could hug him :o)

  3. Thank you Ron and team for a great job, and also for your description of Saticoy’s first health examination. Sorry to humanize, but after observing his behavior on cam over time, it was not very surprising to me that the little dude turned out to be a guy. :)

  4. Hah! I knew Saticoy is a boy! I based my judgement on the sleep positions I saw him in often. Just flopped “all over the place”–legs stretched out behind him, wings drooping. :D Females just “never” sleep that way. (Now do they?);)

  5. I must admit that I have been thinking “boy” all along … well most of the time. Congratulations! Now, this means he will have to get a number tag on his wing/s. Do you know what his number will be? When will that happen?

    • Saticoy will receive a wing tag when and if he joins a group of other young condors who are candidates for release, but that will not occur until after he fledges. While he is with his parents, we try not to handle him. Since he is young, it’s easy to tell him apart from his parents, and so a tag isn’t necessary yet. As for his number, it’s always the last two numbers of his studbook number; in this case it would be 36. The color of the tag tells us what series the bird is from such as the 100 series, 200, etc.

  6. This chick is a male which made me wonder, with Shatash and Sisquoc being so prolific, how many of their chicks have been Male and how many Female? At this point in the breeding program, is one sex going to be more desireable to the gene pool? Of course we realize no matter what the sex, ALL Condors hatched are priceless!

    • Great question. It seems that Shatash and Sisquoc have had more males than females! In fact, counting Saticoy they have had 10 males and 6 females. For the California condor, sex of the bird is not as important as its genetic value. We can move males and females around to other conservation centers or to the wild based on sex ratios, but genetics is really key.

  7. I also was thinking a boy…

    He is much larger then he appears on cam. It was great to watch the exam video, it gave me a better size perspective.

    Thank you condor keepers, you all rock!!

  8. Great job Ron and team!! Congratulations Saticoy. By the way, Which is the meaning of Sisquoc and Shatash??

    Condor Team responds: Sisquoc is a Chumash word that means “in the thick tule.” In 1937, the 1,200-acre Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary was established in the Los Padres National Forest, the first area set aside to help protect the condors’ habitat.
    Shatash is a Wiyot word for “condor.” The Wiyot people are from the north coast of California, near Humboldt Bay.

  9. Hatching, being fed, getting health exam….what is the next milestone in Saticoys life. How soon before he is big enough to see over the nest barrier? At what age will he try to fly?

    Moderator’s note: Ron’s next post will discuss the next milestones to watch out for in our growing boy. Stay tuned!

  10. All wonderful news. Thanks for the wonderful update. :)

  11. Thanks for the great report and pic of our baby BOY. I was pretty sure he was a male. The poster that analyzed his sleeping positions was right-on. And funny. I love watching Saticoy move around and seeing his parents come in to feed him. I look forward to watching his progress. Thanks to everyone for doing such great work with the condors. You make me proud.

  12. This is wonderful. I am always in his ‘house’ watching him and it is great. I am so happy he is healthy and enjoy watching him move around and eat with mommy/daddy. I feel lucky.

  13. I just read that a baby condor doesn’t learn to fly until six months of age, so it seems that we have quite awhile to enjoy watching little Saticoy. How precious is he when sleeping all curled up in a little ball. Aren’t God’s creatures wonderful?

  14. Saticoy
    What a Boy
    So fuzzy and so sweet.
    The question though
    To those who know
    Will he grow into those feet?

    Moderator’s note: Love it!

  15. I’ve been a Panda Cam follower for years but never dreamed I would also become an avid Condor Cam fan. I check in on little Saticoy every day. Both the cam and blogs are fascinating. Thank you for the opportunity to follow Saticoy and learn about condors!

    PS-Great poem, Jan from Richmond!

    Moderator’s note: Welcome to the fascinating world of condors, Susan! We hope you enjoy watching Saticoy grow.

  16. While I don’t live in Cali anymore, I really enjoy watching the web cams, I was not an avid watcher of the Condors until recently, I have lunch with you everyday! Thank you for the updates and all the information you provide, you and your team do a great job, I applaud you!

  17. Looks like something happened to the camera. How am I going to get my Saticoy fix?

    Moderator’s note: Is it alright now? It looks good on my end.

    • Yes, it’s fixed. It was scratched and fuzzy. Now I can get my Saticoy fix. : )

      Moderator’s note: Excellent!

  18. What is going on? Sisquoc seems to be being rough with Saticoy. Saticoy seems to be trying to repulse his father’s attention.