Condor Chick has Fledged!

Perhaps one day Cuyamaca will be flying free.

Perhaps one day Cuyamaca will be flying free.

We have now switched camera views for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Condor Cam. As faithful viewers, you have been able to watch our California condor chick, Cuyamaca, hatch and grow in her nest box. Now, you are able to view her out in her flight pen with her parents, father Sisquoc and mother Shatash, because Cuyamaca has taken the next exciting step in her development: She has fledged!

Fledging is the process in which a young bird leaves the nest. We consider a California condor chick to be fledged when it can fly to the higher perches in the pen, approximately 10 feet off the ground. When condor chicks fledge, they tend to be around 140 or 150 days old. The youngest bird to fledge here at the Safari Park was 123 days old. Cuyamaca left her nest for the first time at 136 days of age.

Our condor nest boxes are elevated: they’re on the second floor of the condor breeding facility. The nests have one entrance that leads to the roost area. The entrance has an 18-inch (45 centimeters) barrier at the base to prevent young hatchlings from wandering out of our camera’s view. This barrier also provides exercise for the chick when it is big enough to start jumping up onto the barrier. The roost area is open to the flight pen and has a ledge that is about 8 feet (2.4 meters) off the ground. There is a 5-inch-diameter (12 centimeters) pole leaning from the ground to the ledge; we call this the pole ladder. The condors can walk up or down this pole ladder to get to or from the nest; they can, of course, fly to the nest if they desire.

Late in the day on August 8, Cuyamaca was out on the ledge with her parents. She was nudged off the ledge by one of them, and she flew a short distance into the pen and landed on the ground. She walked around the pen for a few hours, investigating her new environment. She was able to get up on an 8-foot-tall stump perch, and she stayed there for a little while. Sisquoc later joined her and moved her to a large olive tree, where he and Shatash like to perch. She spent the night high in that olive tree with both of her parents roosting nearby, keeping a watchful eye on her.

In the morning, Cuyamaca hopped down to the ground and continued to investigate the pen. Again, Sisquoc accompanied her. He steered her toward the pool, and she took a drink of water for the first time. Until then, she had gotten all of her water from her parents and the food that they brought to the nest for her. Then, she started to play in the shallow part of the pool, taking her first brief bath. A short time later, she wandered over to the shift pen, a small side pen where we leave food for Sisquoc and Shatash. Sisquoc joined her here as well, and he picked up large pieces of beef spleen for her to nibble on. (For those who remember, Shatash performed the same sort of duties for their chick from last year, Saticoy.)

When condor chicks fledge in the wild, it can be a long process as well. They often walk around the mouth of their nest cave, hopping about, testing their wings. They may hop or climb into nearby shrubs or trees to get a better vantage point. Very seldom do chicks just spring forth from their nest into the wild blue yonder. They usually need to exercise and build their abilities before embarking on such a dangerous venture. Mom and Dad are always present to escort or protect the chicks, too. Parent condors can be very vigilant and defensive of their chicks. After all, much energy and many resources went into producing just this one chick, so they try very hard to ensure success for their only nestling. One pair of condors in California actually chased a black bear away from their nest!

With this new camera view, you’ll be able to see the roost area, most of the perches in the pen, the feeding area (shift pen), shade areas created by plants, and the pool. The view is wide, so detail is a bit harder to discern. Also, we do minimal maintenance in the pen, so the pen has lots of plant growth and dried food (animal carcasses) in it. We limit our activities in/near chick pens so as not to expose Cuyamaca to humans, which would desensitize her to our presence. We have found that chicks raised in isolation from humans tend to be more successful once they are released to the wild. The flight pen won’t look as nice as an exhibit you might see at the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park, but Sisquoc and Shatash prefer it that way if it means we stay away from their precious chick!

If, by chance, you don’t see Cuyamaca out in the pen, she could be resting in the shade of the roost, or she may have hopped back into the nest box. This is completely normal. The adult condors do the same thing. Just give her a little time; she’ll come back out into view later. We have a great volunteer staff that moves the camera for the nest box view, but we keepers move the camera when it is the pen view. We’ll do our best to zoom in to give you a good view of her when we can, but we are not always near the camera controls when we are taking care of the other condors.

So what’s next for Cuyamaca? She’ll stay in the pen with her parents for a little while longer. She is still learning from them. In the wild, condor chicks stay with or around their parents for up to 18 months. We don’t let them stay that long here at the Park. If we did, the next breeding season would probably be compromised; the presence of the fledgling may prevent the parents from breeding the next year, or the parents may turn aggressive to the chick if they try to nest again. Sometime in the fall, Cuyamaca will be removed from her parents so they can prepare for the next breeding season, and she will be introduced to other birds her age and an adult bird to act as a behavioral mentor. In the meantime, it will be decided whether she will be a candidate for release to the wild (and where) or held back for the captive breeding program. I’ll keep you informed when this happens. Until then, please continue to keep checking in on our big girl.

The interest and enthusiasm over the hatch and growth of Cuyamaca have been wonderful. We really appreciate all of the comments and questions we have received throughout her development. Thanks again for all of your support; we couldn’t do it without you!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick: Nest Barrier.

30 Responses to Condor Chick has Fledged!

  1. Love the new post Ron thank you. The new information Is very interesting Here. we are on the nexted chapter of Cuyamaca life. Love it

  2. Thank you for the great description of this stage in the raising of Cuyamaca. It has been, and continues to be, a great adventure!

  3. :)

  4. Ron,

    Thanks for all the great information about our condor family. It’s wonderful to watch Sisquoc and Shatash taking such wonderful care of their precious little girl.

    Thank you for providing the condor cam and all the information.

  5. Hi! That was quick for Cuya! The last time I checked on her was late last week, and she was standing in the gravel porch in front of her nest box, which was pretty good for her then! I knew then that her legs and wings were getting very strong, and it would not be too much longer before she flew the nest and flying out into the pen. Well, she has done that next step in her life! Congrats to Cuya in making her life changing step towards possible freedom down the road! Keep us updated about her progress and whether she will stay with Safari Park or be out in the wild, ok? I know that she will do very well out there! There needs to be another female condor out there to be able to have more wild condor chicks that will add to the wild condor population!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  6. Thank you so very much Ron for the diligent updates. It has been such a pleasure to have been able to observe this miracle of nature and to know that somebody is watching out for and, caring about it. You and your team Rock!

  7. Great news and great blog! We join the Condor Team for the relief, excitement and joy in seeing a successful fledgling. You all did a wonderful job helping the parents during the nesting and the raising of this precious bird. Thank you for working so hard to help bring this bird back from the brink of extinction.

    We wish Cuyamaca a bright future, whether she is released into the wild or kept at the Safari Park. Either way, we hope she finds an attractive male condor with whom to create another addition to the population.

  8. Hi again, Ron,

    You wrote that Cuyamaca was 136 days old when she fledged. I’m trying to remember how old Saticoy was when he fledged.

    I noticed that Shatash was preening Cuyamaca a lot last week before she fledged. I guess she wanted her daughter to have beautiful, clean feathers for her big day.

    Thanks again to you and the whole condor team for all you do for these precious birds. Without all of you and what you do, there would have been no California condors left. It’s a very long and painstaking process but there will be condors in the wild for future generations to enjoy and be amazed by.

    Monitor’s note: Here’s a blog post about Saticoy’s fledge.

  9. Is there enough space for the condors to fly, like really fly? Or is it all enclosed?

    Monitor’s note: The flight pen is enclosed.

  10. Thank you for keeping us informed, This is my first time watching a chick grow up! It has been a treat learning about them.

  11. Thanks for the latest update on beautiful Cuya. Will miss watching her. Good Luck Cuya, wishing you a long and productive life.

  12. I have been there from the very beginning. I have loved every minute of watching her grow. Cant wait til next year.

  13. Good for Cuyamaca!! What’s about Saticoy. is he fine?

  14. Hi, Ron & all.
    Thanks for the new update. “CONGRATS” to Cuya and everyone on the team. Good job! It seems to have gone so quickly. I’m so glad she is healthy and ready to try her new life.
    Hope it all continues to go well.

  15. Good Morning from Kansas! I was watching the pen at 5 this morning and I noticed some lights in the pen. Do you have colored lights in the pen? Just curious. Thanks in advance for your answer.

  16. Ron, I look forward each morning so I can spend a few minutes on my laptop watching this amazing family prosper. I love it!!!

    Eagles lovers, listen up. If everyone who is fascinated with these beautiful birds sends just $1.00 to the San Diego Zoo to help support this wonderful project, just think what they can do to modernize the lives of these creatures.
    So . . . . grab an envelope, insert $1.00 and send it off. How great would that be!!!!!

    • Hey TJ!
      That sounds like a good idea! I love these beautiful creatures and the wonderful people that care for the future of these birds! Thank you for suggesting that! You’re a good egg! 😉

  17. Gayle:

    My envelope will be in the mail Monday morning. Hope yours will be sent offf soon.

  18. Ron:

    I want to send a donation to the zoo but need an address.



    Monitor’s note: Thank you, TJ. Our mailing address is:

    San Diego Zoo Global
    P.O. Box 120551
    San Diego, CA 92112-0551

  19. Saw Cuyamaca s. parents on the tall perch today and looked like Cuyamaca was trying to fly up to that one , has she been able to get that high. I was watching for a while and she couldn’t do it? But I love the way they watch her all the time . Great Parents.

  20. Family bath time for Cuyamaca watching I think it was Mom pushing her in and showing her what to do so cute.

  21. What a great picture Mom Cuyamaca , and Dad all sitting high on the perchs watching the world around them . Cuyamaca has grown very fast . Great team.

  22. Is Cuyma stuck between those branches?

  23. Thank goodness, he was able to get free. Yeah for Cuyman!!

  24. Are all the condor flight pens next to each other . We are seeing a new family . Is everything ok with Cuyamaca ? It grat to see another family too.

    Monitor’s note: She’s fine, and we’ll have a blog to update you on her next adventure soon.

  25. I am concerned about Cuyamaca. Why are we not seeing her pen? Is something wrong with her?
    We have only a little time to still see her before she is moved. Could you please turn the camera on in her pen?
    Thanks for all the info and the wonderful experience of watching Saticoy and Cuyamaca. And for restoring condors to our skies. They are amazing to watch soaring free.

  26. Will Cuyamaca and Pshan be sent to their next stage together? Is it possible that they could be mates in the future>

  27. When will Saticoy be released?

  28. Thanks for showing another condor family.
    I made an impromptu trip to the zoo today and was able to watch the condors in the zoo exhibit. It is pretty awesome to watch a condor’s wings in flight. I especially like the very outer feathers which remind me of fingers because they look separate.
    Having watched Saticoy from egg to fledging, I will say I have more of a soft spot towards CA Condors (even though they are not traditionally beautiful).

  29. Thank you for introducing us to the neighbors! Looks like Cuyamaca is off to the next stage now or very soon! The local fan club up here in N Cal is hoping for her release in either Big Sur or Pinnacles. :)
    Poppy, it’s likely that Cuyamaca will select an older, more dominant male as her mate when the time comes, if one is available, rather than a male her same age, even if Pshan is released with her.