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!

57 Responses to Condor Egg is Hatching!

  1. this morning I saw interesting interactions between Shatash and Sisquoc. Shatash was sitting on the egg. it seemed like they were poking each other. would this be a type of grooming interaction? would Sisquoc bring food for Shatash? at one point I almost imagined she was taking something from his mouth but it was not clear.
    thank you for the informative post.

    Moderator’s note: They were most likely bickering about who gets to help the egg hatch, as this is an exciting time for them!

    • I saw that too and I just guessed that maybe the egg was pipping. It looked like Sisquoc wanted a turn on the egg but Shatash wasn’t going to budge. When he would move closer to her, she would reach out and nip him. Just a little domestic squabble in the condor’s nest box!

      Thanks to everyone involved in the San Diego Zoo Global California Condor program for providing the camera and the informative blogs.

    • haha, thanks for the reply. I guess Sisquoc won the bickering this morning. now he is egg sitting.

    • So, I see an empty egg, but mom won’t budge so I can see if there’s a chick. Is there a chick, anyone?

  2. Great! In the case that the hatching happens at 2am (or anytime ) will there be video of the happy event?

    Thanks for the update.

    Moderator’s note: Probably not, so stay glued to Condor Cam as best you can.

  3. My daughters and I have been so excited to witness the beautiful parenting behavior and play the game, “Guess Who Is On the Egg” before we access the cam. Your website and condor cam are so educational. We have learned so much.

    Thank you!!!

    Moderator’s note: Your girls will really enjoy watching the little chick!

  4. Many thanks for the update and the explanations, Ron – you give superbly-explained insights for the layman! A really exciting time: I am watching Condor Cam as much as possible.

  5. If I have my history correct, March 30, 1983 was Sisquoc’s hatch day. He will be 30 at the end of the week? That’s when I guessed the chick would hatch, but I guess the little tyke was too eager to wait. Lovely hatch-day present for Sisquoc anyway. Congratulations to all.

    Thank you for this website; it is so much fun to watch these guys, and will soon be even more fun.

    Moderator’s note: Ron hopes to write a blog post about Sisquoc’s milestone “birthday.”

  6. Yay! Here we go again! Can’t wait! I got to watch last year and it’s so much fun, my co-workers thought I was nuts, then they started to watch Sisquoc and his parents! We’re looking forward to seeing the new little one! Good job Condor Crew and Condor Cam operator!

  7. So exciting. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  8. I am giddy with the anticipation of seeing our newest addition!! This is more exciting than Christmas morning, lol. A million and one THANKS to such a caring crew for allowing us to share these precious moments and milestones!

    • I agree. Thank you so much for the detail explanation of the hatching process and allowing us to follow and view this rare glimpse of miracle in action.

  9. YAY, my seccond Condor chick! Awesome conservation program. Do you have a ‘wishlist’ for the Condors?

    Moderator’s note: Not yet, but our online wish list is updated monthly, so you never know!

  10. On tenterhooks now that the watch is on. All best wishes for a happy outcome!

  11. It would appear the chick has hatched, as I see what looks to be the remains of the shell next to Shatash..

    Moderator’s note: The chick is still in the shell, but the “door” is open!

  12. Since the “door” is open, is the chick ok, does it usually take awhile for the chick to get out of the shell???

    Moderator’s note: My mistake, the chick was already out of the shell and underneath Mom. I’m sorry for the confusion.

  13. Congratulations to Sisquoc and Shatash and the condor team. Welcome to the world little one.

  14. I am also seeing the egg looks hatched. but I have not seen anything come out. I guess there will be a separate blog but after the chick comes out of the egg, how long will the parents be spending most of their time sitting over the chick? I sort of recall that they need to be very protective at the beginning.

  15. Oh my gosh, how cute is that little baby, congrats all the way around!!!!

  16. it is so cute!!! seems perfect!! and parents are happy!! I can see it in their eyes… Thank you God & the entire Condor team!!!! Now… how long before we know if it’s a boy or a girl?? too long if i remember right… lol… and names… got to start thinking up names… oh my… such a FUN to do list!!! Happy Birthday Little One :)

  17. the parents gave a short view of the chick. its feathers are light grey and still wet. its head is relatively large to its body and light pink. its neck is not yet strong enough to hold up its head. it is not moving its legs much but fidgeting a bit with its upper body and maybe trying with its neck. congratulations to SDZoo and parents.

    • I’d like to correct myself. I think the chick is supposed to have downy fuzz rather than feathers at this point. but the fuzz was light greyish.

  18. Is there a video on the egg hatching? well I mean the chick? I wanna see it..lol :)

  19. Just saw Mom and baby, and the little one was moving around quite well and lifting it’s head up for food. Looked as though Mom was “cleaning” the baby with her beak. So cute.

  20. Will there be a video of the chick? anyone? havent seent it yet :(

    • i guess not..thought u would post pictures of the chick :(..or do a blog

  21. Lovely to see the chick. Very interesting interaction between the parents: Shatash, on Sisquoc’s arrival, stood and moved back. Sisquoc approached, positioned himself, but did not sit to brood the newborn, when Shatash moved back in around him and resumed her position, settling gently over the chick, whereupon Sisquoc gently retreated. Mom seems to be taking the lead.

  22. Congratulations to the entire Condor team!!! Can only imagine what proud parents you all are. I was lucky enough to catch the actual hatching last year and then again for some reason felt compelled to tune in just as this newest condor was hatching. What a wonderful experience to see that a second time. I am green with envy at the work you all do. Well done and Happy Birthday to the newest condor member!

  23. Is dad the bigger bird? I don’t see his “number” this year.

    Moderator’s note: He’s the one with the number, Shatash does not have number.

    • Yes, dad is bigger than mom. Really obvious when you see them together. Dad’s tag is somewhat hidden with his wings folded at this angle. It is yellow, and you just see a little bit of it most of the time.

  24. Welcome little one. I watched your big brother grow up and am looking forward to seeing you do the same.

  25. will someone please post a picture of the chick!!!..still havent see it..or do a blog on it? pls..!!!!..thnx.. :)

    • you have to be a little patient and lucky. if you happen to see both parents in the nest, that is a good time to catch a view of the chick (when one parent gets up from chick sitting duty). the chick looks like a grey fuzzball but he has a stronger neck now. today when Sisquoc got up, the chick was reaching his head up. I guess the chick was saying, “feed me.” I have not seen any feeding sessions so far but may just be missing them.

      • Yeah patient, dont always have that..lol…I did find a an article with picture on scoop san diego..was cool!..also sometimes the cam isnt focused..:(

  26. do the parents feed the chick at this stage? lately when I look in, I see Sisquoc sitting on the chick. to me, Sisquoc looks like he’s fighting to keep his eyes open. during the daylight hours, do the parents try to stay awake while they are chick sitting? will the parents be short on sleep at the beginning of the chick’s life?

    • Right now at 10 a.m. pacific time it looks like dad is asleep…I have seen several feedings, but the parent is usually with its back to the camera. You have to infer what is going on from the actions of the parent. I believe the chick will live off the yolk sac for about the first 24 hours or so, then feedings commence. These two are super parents!

      • thanks, that seems to make sense. I was wondering about the egg’s nutrients. sometimes I feel like there is something hanging from Shatash’s beak but then I thought she could just be a messy eater (or maybe it’s chick fuzz from grooming).

  27. Oh my gosh!!! Here we are again watching another life begin. What a joy!

  28. I’m posting a link to a photo from 03/28/13 of the chick. it’s not a close up shot (taken from the webcam) but you can see the chick’s fuzziness, color, and relative size to Sisquoc.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/51947371@N07/8600200199/in/set-72157633115553323/

    • Thanks for sharing !!!…great picture, so cute :)

  29. Yaaay I saw. The chick!!! Sorta white ball, even walked a little, mom fed it, something from the sand. When dad came closer, mom pecked at him,like I’m not ready to switch yet, so funny. Finally after much patients,dad took over. So glad I was able to see the chick :)

  30. Really good view of the chick for a couple of minutes. It appears strong, with very good neck control, reaching forward and pecking at what looked like remnants of egg shell. Hard to believe that it fitted into that egg shell only 3 days ago!

  31. The chick is incredibly cute! All white and fluffy. He or she looks great! What fantastic parents!

  32. Hi! Just voted for Tiyep on the name list. That name sounds like a good one for this new chick! What language were all 5 of those names derived from? They sounded like Native American to me.
    Just got on the condorcam and saw the new baby chick all by himself! He/she is soooo TINY!! Then momma came back in and got her chick all snuggled up under her wing. Congrats to the condor parents on their newest baby! And, congrats to all of you for all of your hard work on keeping these birds going for all of these years!
    BTW, who won the birth date contest? I think I was about one or two days off of the actual birth date myself!
    Gonna go back to the cams again!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  33. just precious. the little chickie is feeding from Sisquoc. the chick is flapping its little winglets.
    if I slip and call the chick a boy, it’s by mistake. I think it’s just from remembering Saticoy (older brother).
    the chick seems very excited to feed. it is like a little easter chick by the timing of the birth and current fuzziness.

  34. the little chickie was playing peek-a-boo from under Sisquoc’s left wing just earlier. I suppose this parental behavior inspired the phrase “taking someone under their wing.”

  35. Hi, all.
    Just got back over here and see the chick has hatched. I am, once again, as “thrilled” as I was last year when Saticoy arrived. I’m so glad it went well and look forward to watching our new baby mature. “Congrats” to the team. I know you will take good care of “Baby”.

  36. WOW..just saw the little chick all alone, first time!!…cant believe how much down feathers it has…do we know when they will find out what sex it is?..hopefully a blog will come soon?

  37. the other day the chick was sitting alone (with a parent at the bottom of the video). the chick looked like a fluffy tennis ball.

  38. Is it my imagination, or is this year’s chick more active than Saticoy was at this age? I don’t remember him being so animated.

    • I was wondering the same question. this chick appears fairly feisty or hungry (?) to me. it spent a couple minutes pecking at Sisquoc’s facial skin flap, beak, and even his eye. poor Sisquoc, I don’t think he can sleep much while the chick is awake in this state. but maybe it is just hunger? the chick is also exploring Sisquoc’s wing feathers and Sisquoc is grooming the chick. now the chick appears curious about Sisquoc’s tag but Sisquoc is blocking the chick from exploring that too closely.
      I didn’t expect the chick to be so interactive with a parent (except for feeding) at this age. but honestly I don’t remember what Saticoy did at this age. I somewhat expected that the chick wouldn’t do things that might annoy the parent until later though.

  39. maybe it’s time for a change of chick sitters but Sisquoc appears to have left the nest. and the chick is grooming itself. makes me wonder if it just has an empty stomach or if it is going to need extra training in etiquette. the chick appears to be eating the remnants of its shell so I guess it is hungry.

  40. Sisquoc is back and the chick is tucked under him again. guess the chick obliged to taking shelter and Sisquoc can rest without being pecked at.

  41. Does the chick only get fed once a day? I haven’t been able to see a feeding yet this year (and never did catch one last year (!)).

  42. I too have noticed this chick seems ahead in development compared to Saticoy. It seems to enjoy being able to peek out or be totally out from under Shatash at times but will make it’s way back under her wing if it wants to. I believe it took Saticoy over a month or more to learn this.
    As to the chick eating it’s shell, Saticoy did that too even after being fed, perhaps the shell remains contain minerals and it knows to eat bits of it to aid in it’s health and growth.

  43. I see the chick alone. It seems to be having difficulty maintaining its balance and sort of rocking back and forth. Is something wrong?

    • Hi Edith,

      I’m pretty sure that nothing is wrong with the chick. His parents seem to leave him alone quite a bit now. He’s just a baby which is the reason that he might be tottering a little bit. Actually this chick seems pretty advanced for his age, as I try to remember what Saticoy was doing at 2 weeks. I shouldn’t say “he” because we don’t know yet. Maybe this one is a girl.