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.

12 Responses to Condor Chick Watching: Hatch to 1 Week

  1. Thanks for discussing the feeding of the chick. I always wondered how much food were they able to hold. I was wondering who won the contest on when will the chick hatch? I didn’t know if I missed the announcement or not. It was also exciting to know that Saticoy will be released into the wild this year. I know it is exciting for you all as well. He grew up so fast on the cam and I can’t wait to watch this little one grow up as well :)

    Monitor’s note: Those that voted should have received an email notice about the winner. “Congratulations to Marie S. from Johnson City, TN, for submitting the closest guess to the chick’s actual hatching date and time. She was off by only five minutes!”

  2. This is my first year watching a condor chick on the cam and I am really enjoying it. Thank you for all the good work you do and for the good information, too!

  3. This is also my first year watching the condor chick on cam..its sooooooooooo exciting to see him/her grow everyday..when will they know what sex it is?…im sure it will be hard to get chick away from the parents. I have learned so much about these birds, cant wait to see the chick grow !!.,.did we get a name yet?

  4. thanks for the informative blog post. I thought perhaps Sisquoc was sitting on the chick more often these days. but I guess Shatash was the one who got to sit on the chick for the hatching. I didn’t know that the eggshell was nutritious for the chick. when I had the chance to see the chick, it looked vigorous.

  5. I saw a tiny baby Condor zoo webcam WOW ! Have seen Condor Soar, from the Tehactapis (sp) California

  6. Thanks for sharing all the great information!

  7. That little bald head is soooooooo cute!!!! I’d fight to be with him/her too!! :)

  8. Thank you so much for the update. I’m really enjoying watching the chick, thanks to everyone who makes that possible. When will we find out if the chick is male or female and its name?

  9. Thank you very much for having the Condor cam. i love to learn new bits and facts about these majestic birds. It is amazing how much the chick has grown already. He started super white and already is changing colors. :) There is something very adorable about the bald head look, lol.

  10. Wow! Just saw the video,hard to believe it was packed into that egg. Its head is too heavy to hold up, when will you know the sex?

  11. Is the baby bird ok? I was watching from the East Coast last night and it seemed sluggish and the Mom was not around. I checked back around 8:30pm EST and the camera was not on the baby. I was so worried.

    Monitor’s note: The chick is fine!

  12. I’ve loved condors since I was a kid,got to see one at the zoo in gulf breeze,fl.-just waited as he sat on his perch-finally spread his wings-true majesty-I’ll never forget it-question-are there any andean condors left?

    Monitor’s note: Yes indeed. You can read about them in our San Diego Zoo Animals website.