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.

37 Responses to Condor Chick Watching: Age 30 to 45 Days

  1. thanks for the informative blog post

  2. I just saw Cuyamaca but his head on his mother to turn her away. He is going to be an alpha bird!

  3. Another welcome and informative post:many thanks again, Ron.

  4. Thanks a lot Ron. What is of Saticoy, our first chick?

  5. SDZ – next best thing to watching a nest in the wild. Keep up the good work you’ve done for so many years. The comments by Ron are a great read.

  6. Cuyamaca. Is doing so well love the way he ,she , lays flat to sleep and keeps the feathers close by very cute but is growing very fast . Thank you for the up dates Ron.

  7. Thanks! Look forward to a post in the exam process and results. Great work.

  8. Great Blog! I have to say a very interesting bird to watch grow up.

  9. I have not seen the chick this AM. Is there some reason the camera is pointed out the doorway of the nest? I’ve seen the parents, but no chick.

  10. I was wondering the same thing, Edith. Did I read that it is getting it’s exam today???

  11. I saw Cuyamaca this morning and he she looked fine?

  12. I was wondering too, why the camera is turn to the parents.

  13. Was Cuyamaca eating something he she should have not had .now the camera is off ?

  14. I have enjoyed watching this chick grow from a hatchling just like Saticoy. I am guessing that it is a female this time. I just watched the chick take a good stretch with one leg that was sticking out behind it, then draw it in under itself and tuck its head over a wing just like a adult. I’ve yet to see it sleeping in an “awkward” position like Saticoy did.

  15. Great watching Cuyamaca feeding from dad. How much food do the parents have to eat to feed Cuyamaca?

    • The condors normally are fed four days/week. The other three days of the week, they are fasted. They often will not eat every day in the wild, sometimes fasting for up to two weeks, so our nutritionists recommend not feeding them every day to prevent obesity and food waste. Their diet, depending on the day, can consist of rats, rabbits, trout, beef spleen, or ground meat. We offer 2 to 3 pounds of food per bird per feeding day. When the condors are raising a chick, in addition to their normal diet, we offer extra food every day: 1 rat, 1.5 pounds of beef spleen, 1 trout, & .5 pounds of ground meat. They don’t end up feeding all of this food to the chick, but we want to be sure that they have enough for the growing baby. It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much food Cuyamaca is eating each day, but we estimate that it could be eating 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food per day.

  16. Camera off today I hope Cuyamaca is ok ?

    Monitor’s note: We’ve been having some technical issues, but the chick is doing great!

  17. Glad you were able to sort the camera. Out. Cuyamaca. Looks great. It’s amazing how fast he she is growning

  18. She is doing so well, and is moving about and doing things so quickly. I just love watching the baby female condor, she is so progressive; just looks like a girl!

    • I agree! She is so smart and progressing so fast that she just has to be a little girl. She seems a lot calmer than Saticoy was.

  19. the baby chick is sleeping on his or her belly wings spread out and his toes are curled under so cute
    it 405 eastern time

  20. Is the baby ok….she is all spread out like she might be sick.


    Monitor’s note: It’s a warm day and resting spread eagle (spread condor?) is a great way to cool off!

    • Your state ‘the first egg of the season’ will there be another egg once this chick is out of the nest?

      Thank you.

  21. The California Condors are absolutely fascinating and the chicks are so cute. I wanted to send this quick note, as I saw a California Condor today (Madison Ave x Elm St, Murrieta, CA). In fact, had I not immediately realized what it was and slowed down, I could have hit it with my car! It was on a two-lane road, eating a dead squirrel. When I slowed down and approached, it lifted off and flew over the hood of my car. It was so awesome! I couldn’t see a tag on it… I turned on the next street and pulled over. When I looked back, it was soaring over an empty field. What a sight!!!

    Safari Park responds: What you saw was most likely a turkey vulture, as California condors are not moving in that area. Still, it’s always a treat to see these large scavengers tidy things up!

  22. Sisquoc is being very assertive with the chick. Is he disciplining it or just being aggressive? The chick seems to be cowering.

    When will the chick be examined and blood drawn for sexing? Isn’t this about the time? I haven’t seen anything about it in the messages.

  23. This morning I saw Cuyamaca near the door opening with one of the parents , he she was trying to get attention maybe for more food. He she was biting the parents feet it was very cute ,has the parents are very good to there baby . Can Cuyamaca get out he she is growing so fast and when he she stands near the door way he she looks as if he can nearly see out.?

  24. Does Cuyamaca call for the parents when he she is hungry?

  25. Is that a rock Cuyamaca has under his foot?

  26. it is 3:08 on Tuesday … baby appears to be in the ‘spread condor” position again … but he/she looks to be laying at a rather odd angle … both legs/feet stretched out behind him/her; one wing just kind of hanging there … is he/she ok … and again perhaps its just warm and he/she is trying to keep cool ??? He/she looks so sad in that position.

    Monitor’s note: No worries, Mary. Please remember that is anything were wrong with the chick, keepers would be assisting in a flash, as they monitor each chick throughout the day.

    • Monitor,

      Thanks for responding .. I know you all take great care in keeping your babies healthy and happy, I’m just a “nervous nellie” .. and even more so when I see baby in an odd position that I have never seen him in … thanks for the reassurance!

  27. Is that a little door Cuyamaca is at and what is it for ?

    Monitor’s note: It’s a keeper access door, in case a human hand needs to reach in to assist the chick.

  28. Was just on the condorcam, and saw Momma Shatash and baby Cuya in the nestbox. Momma was trying to clean Cuya, and Cuya decided that he didn’t like that and started nipping back at his mom! That went on for a few minutes, then Cuya decided that he has had enough of mom’s overbearing style and started to move away from her–SIDEWAYS! Mom decided to leave him alone and Cuya was on the other side of the box just looking around by himself. He is walking alot better, too! Looks like that he has gotten out of that ungainly crawling stage now. Will keep checking the condorcam to see how he is doing! Oh yeah, Cuya will be 2 months old this Sunday, May 26!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  29. Looks like he/she is due for the physical any day now!

  30. Cuyamaca is giving his wings a real workout. It looks like he is almost ready to fledge (at least he thinks so)!

  31. It’s a mazeing how Cuyamaca sleeps now he she is using his wing for a pillow. So cute

  32. I was wondering if Cuyamaca had the first exam yet, since Ron had said it would be done around the 45 day mark and the chick is now just over 2 months of age.
    Also wondering when the next blog would be posted regarding what to expect in the next stage of development for the chick as well.