The Condors Next Door

Pshan rubs his head on the roosting platform next to Towich.

Screenshot: Pshan rubs his head on the nest ledge next to Towich.

Normally, at this time of the year, Condor Cam viewing is a little slow. The chick has been moved to our socialization pen in preparation for eventual release to the wild and the parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, won’t start their breeding season until late October/early November. But this year is different! Sisquoc and Shatash’s neighbors are still raising their chick, and we were able to shift the Condor Cam pen camera to peek in on them.

The male is this pair is Towich (pronounced TOH-witch) and the female is Sulu (SOO-loo). Towich is wearing yellow wing tags, numbered 135; Sulu is not wearing any tags. Towich hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo, one of our valuable partners in the California Condor Recovery Program, in 1996. He was released to the wild in southern California in 1997 but was recaptured and returned to captivity when he started showing interest in humans. More than likely, he was fed by people when he was young, causing him to lose his wariness of them. He is no longer suitable as a release bird. Towich’s story serves as an essential reminder that when viewing condors in the wild (or any wildlife, for that matter), it is of the utmost importance that we do not feed them or approach them too closely. Getting that extreme close-up picture or having the thrill of feeding a wild animal is not worth having the condor spend the rest of its life in a cage.

Sulu hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1990, and she has lived here with us her whole life. Towich is her second mate. She was separated from her first mate in 2000, when it was determined that she and Towich were a better genetic pairing. The pairing process in a breeding program can sound a bit clinical, especially in a species such as the California condor, whose population dropped to only 22 birds in 1982, but we have to be very careful who gets paired with whom in order to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. Despite the lack of romance in being paired together, Towich and Sulu have developed into an awesome couple. They seldom squabble over food; they often perch near each other in the flight pen; they have excellent nest exchanges when incubating eggs or brooding chicks; and they seem to like to sit or lay down together, along with their chick, in the nest box or the roost.

The chick they are raising this year is Pshan (Puh-SHAWN), and he is 144 days old (as of September 17, 2013). Towich and Sulu are not Pshan’s biological parents, though. Towich and Sulu’s egg was needed at the Los Angeles Zoo this year, so we delivered it to that zoo before hatching. It hatched under a different pair of condors and will eventually be released somewhere in California. Now that Towich and Sulu were without an egg, we had the opportunity to give them a different egg, one that we were planning on raising using a condor puppet. One of our condor pairs is not very good at sharing nesting duties and often squabbles over chicks when they hatch. Therefore, to ensure the safety of the chick, we don’t let that pair parent-rear anymore. Pshan is the chick that hatched from the egg fostered to Towich and Sulu. Fostering is a common technique used in avian breeding. The parents usually accept the new egg and hatch it and raise the chick as if it was their own.

Like Sisquoc and Shatash, Towich and Sulu have done an exemplary job in raising their chick. Pshan hatched April 27, 2013, and is about a month younger than Cuyamaca. He is starting to come out onto the nest ledge more often. By the end of the month, he should be ready to fledge, or leave the nest. At that point, he will receive his wing tag and be moved to the socialization pen to be introduced to Cuyamaca and the other chicks from this year.

Many Condor Cam viewers have requested photos of Cuyamaca in her new pen. We, hopefully, will be posting some soon. She is handling the socialization process like a champ.

Also, we received word from the field biologists at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge recently. Saticoy, the Condor Cam chick from last season (and Cuyamaca’s older brother), has not been released to the wild yet. He is doing very well in the pre-release pen and should be flying free by the end of September! When this happens, we’ll let you know and, we hope, will have some pictures to show you, too.

Have fun with Towich, Sulu, and Pshan!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Moving Day.

24 Responses to The Condors Next Door

  1. Great. Good job condor team. I am happy to read about Saticoy, our boy!!

  2. Ron, once again you and your team amaze me in what you are able to do to save these beautiful condors , and of course all the time and hard work put in every day to make sure these birds live on for every one to see.

  3. Ron I am in absolute awe of the respect you give these magnificent birds. It takes a huge amount of patience I’m sure and I give thanks to you and the whole team for preparing them for the wild. You all are awesome!

  4. Looks like a little courtship activity going on this morning! :)

  5. Hi, Ron & team. I was so happy to read that Saticoy & Cuya were doing well. And this report on their neighbors is wonderful. I really enjoy reading your reports. Thanks again for your great work with these magnificent birds.

  6. Thanks for sharing Pshan with us. It is such a joy to see these babies grow and their doting parents.

  7. Read your article about Pshan, but I was on the condor cam to watch Pshan, and the cam is showing the flight pen today. I would like for you to get the cam back on Pshan for a little while longer so that we all can watch him grow, develop, and even fly out of the nest (unless he’s already done that by now). Towich and Sulu are excellent parents and foster parents, and you are lucky to have at least 2 sets of condor parents that are very good at raising their own chicks every year. Keep up the great work that you are doing in California, you all!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  8. Is Saticoy released?

    • We still haven’t heard. We fear the government shutdown may have something to do with the delay. We will keep condor fans posted as best we can.

  9. I haven’t seen Pshan for several days. Did he fledge and I missed it? The last time I saw him he was sitting outside on the nest box, but hadn’t yet climbed down the pole. He should be getting close to flying soon, right?

  10. I haven’t seen Pshan for a while and the parents don’t seem to go to the nest box ? We need to know if Pshan is ok.

  11. Good news my fellow condor watchers, I just saw both Sulu and Towich fly to the nest box. One of them went inside, so Pshan must still be in there. He must be a late bloomer! They will coax him out one of these days–he may be the slowest to fledge yet.

  12. The camera is back in Cuyamaca pen is Pshan ok ?

  13. What has happened to Pshan? We are now back in Saticoy/Cuyamaca’s pen. Hope all is well.

    Monitor’s note: All is well with our condors, Diann.
    Update October 22, 2013: We recently removed Pshan to the socialization pen with all of the other 2013 chicks

  14. On a tangent, I read 1-2 weeks ago that CA Gov Brown signed a bill that would ban lead bullets (AB711). This sounds significant for the CA condors and conservation efforts. Although, it doesn’t go into effect for a few years. I guess that manufacturers have to catch up then.

  15. I guess from your report Pshan did fly and we missed it . I am glad he is ok and on to the next step in his life. But miss them.I will keep watching for the next reports. Thank you Ron and your great Team.

  16. Could you please let us know who the condors are in the far pen, beyond Towich and Sulu? It’s double the fun to watch two condor pairs! Thank you.

    Ron responds: Towich & Sulu’s neighbors in the far pen are Simerrye (pronounced “SIM-er-eye”) and Ojja (pronounced “OH-jah”). Simerrye is a 13-year-old male, and he wears red wing tags. Ojja is an 11-year-old female, with no tags. Together, they successfully raised one of our chicks this year, a young male named Kuyam (pronounced “KOO-yahm”). Kuyam is now in our socialization pen with all of our other chicks, including Cuyamaca and Pshan. In fact, he spends a lot of his time with Pshan!

  17. Ron can you tell us how many Condor Chicks were born this year?

    Ron responds: We had 6 California condor chicks hatch at the Safari Park this year: 3 males and 3 females. They are females Wesa (pronounced “WAY-sah”), Kimi (“KEE-mee), Cuyamaca (“kwee-ah-MACK-ah”), and males Kuyam (“KOO-yahm”), Pshan (“puh-SHAWN”), Ostus (“OH-stuss”). All 6 birds are now housed in our large, off-exhibit socialization pen with their mentor, 9-year-old Xananan (“ha-NA-nan”), where they are being prepared for eventual release to the wild.

  18. Ron I was just watching about the released, condors being taken to the LA zoo with lead poisoning. There was 21 sick and some critical . Will you put a hold on our condors this year or is this part of life . It’s the lead in bullets that hunters use ,that seams to be causing the problem.

    San Diego Zoo Global responds: Lead poisoning in the wild is an ongoing health issue for condors and is a challenge that San Diego Zoo Global is actively working to overcome.

  19. Ron so sad too here that two Condor were found dead in northern California , all your work that you do to help the species survive. They said they were found in a fire department water tank . I hope you can find out what happened this is not a good year for the condors . Are the other condors recovering ? .I also saw what looks like the nest box is blocked do the condors stay out till mating season.

  20. Thanksgiving celebration! Time to remember how thankful we are for the great work your staff is doing to save the condors. May God bless you for taking care of His little ones.

  21. Has Saticoy been released?

    Monitor’s note: We’ve just learned from U.S. Fish & Wildlife that Saticoy has been released! Our Condor Team promises an update soon.

  22. All the condors seemed to have feasted on an abundance of food (planned?) over the last few days so I think Saticoy should have a good chance at securing some good feedings and getting some big exercise!