Egg-citing News on Condor Cam

A precious California condor egg is candled to check on fertility and condition.

A precious California condor egg is candled to check on fertility and condition.

We have good news to report: California condors Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg is FERTILE! Shatash laid the egg on January 22, 2014, and we are expecting it to begin the hatching process around March 18. So, it is approximately one-third of the way through its 56-day incubation period.

Condor Cam viewers have been watching Sisquoc and Shatash take turns caring for and incubating their egg. 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 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 place the egg in an incubator, 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.

We weigh the egg every day and candle it every few days. When we candle the egg, we hold it up to a bright light that illuminates the interior of the egg, allowing us to see inside. We can monitor blood vessels, membrane development, embryo growth, and movement. As of now, we can see the embryo, which is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) long, moving inside the shell; we can also see its eyes! By weighing and candling during the incubation period, we can make sure that the embryo is progressing normally, and if it isn’t, we can prepare to offer help if and when it is needed.

If all goes well during incubation, and the egg begins the hatching process, we carefully switch it with the dummy egg while the parents are out in the flight pen eating or sunning. They usually don’t even realize we switched eggs on them; they just return to their incubation duties.

As previously mentioned, both the male and female condor take turns sitting on the egg. An incubation bout may only last a few minutes before the parent gets off of the egg and leaves the nest box, or it may sit for the whole day. When the parents take turns on the egg, we call it a nest exchange. Sometimes a nest exchange is immediate: one parent enters the nest, and the other parent gets off of the egg and leaves. Other times, a nest exchange may be long, leaving the egg unattended for up to 30 minutes while the parents are outside eating, bathing, sunning, or socializing. During a long nest exchange, the egg cools down, but not usually enough to endanger the egg, especially with successful and experienced parents like Sisquoc and Shatash. Many times both parents are in the nest area—one may perch in the nearby roost while the other sits on the egg—seemingly keeping each other company.

During nesting season, California condors can be surprisingly territorial and defensive of their nest. Usually, they are very mild-mannered and calm, but when they have a precious egg or chick in the area, they defend it. One of the field biologists in California reported a pair of condors swooping and chasing a black bear away from their nest! Despite being very tough and strong birds, they can be very gentle when it comes to caring for their egg or their chick.

Keep checking in on Condor Cam to follow the progress of Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg and eventual chick!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, A New Egg on Condor Cam.

34 Responses to Egg-citing News on Condor Cam

  1. Awesome! They are such great parents and it will be interesting and fun to see this little chick grow and thrive. Thank you for providing the cam and of course for all the information and education.

  2. Great news! They are such good parents and fun to watch after the little one hatches.

  3. Great news . Looking forward to all the. News to come.

  4. Hi! Thanks for answering my question on when Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg will hatch; I’ll keep March 18 on my calender as a reminder! The other question was about how many other condor parents have laid their eggs over the last month. Can you answer that question for us, please? We’ll appreciate it alot!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

    Monitor note: Chari, three fertile eggs have been laid, with a four egg recently laid but not yet checked for fertility.

  5. I’m so glad to see that our condor family is growing again. Thanks for sharing the news. I look forward to watching the baby grow and the parents being so attentive.

  6. I’m torn on this kind of method. On the one hand I see the benefit of keeping an eye on the development inside the egg. On the other hand it seems mean to take their egg, it’s theirs not yours. Sitting on and taking such great care of a fake egg seems mean. Just my thoughts.

  7. Michelle, I think it is the most valuable way to increase the Condor population. The parents believe it is their egg, otherwise they would not incubate. Or maybe they understand everything that is going on and want to participate :)

  8. Thank you for the news and updated about the latest egg. I do not know if it is intentional or simply due to busy schedules but this blog info does not show on the SDZoo’s featured blog articles. In the past, it seems like the condor blogs were duplicated here and there.

    Between breeding seasons, I sometimes forget to come to this site. But I guess that people can still get here from the condor cam page on the SDZoo site.

    Monitor’s note: Thank you for your comment, carol_lizard. We’ll add this blog post to the Zoo’s blog section to alert readers to watch Condor Cam!

  9. Thank you for helping bring Condors back from the brink.
    Are they successfully hatching and fledging young in the wild, or is it still difficult for them?
    Thanks again. They are wonderful birds.

    Condor Team responds: The condors that have been released into the wild are now of an age to produce their own offspring. Chicks have been produced in the wild in California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico. Thanks for your interest in the condor.

  10. Thank you for the latest news.

  11. 3 years in a row wathching theses beauiful little chicks grow to adulthood. Thanks for sharing with all of us:)

  12. In your very informative post, you mention monitoring the egg so that so that you can offer “assistance” if required. I am wondering what sort of assistance you might be able to provide if something goes wrong with the egg.

    Monitor’s note: If a chick is badly positioned in the egg, it may struggle to hatch itself and need assistance.

  13. Hi Ron I was wondering , when do you put the real egg back with the parents?

    Monitor’s note: When the real egg is about to hatch, keepers carefully switch it with the dummy egg.

  14. Do the parents have the real egg now?

  15. Hi! It’s March 17, St. Patty’s Day, and I am wondering whether Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg is beginning to hatch yet! You gave a date of March 18 on when the egg will start the hatching process, so here we go waiting on the outcome! Have you given the real egg back to the parents yet? Hope so! Just checked the condorcam, and there was the mom laying on the egg (the REAL egg, I hope!). Please let us know with an update about the egg, ok? Luck of the Irish to you!!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  16. it’s just about 1:30 PDT on St Pat’s Day and maybe it’s just wishful thinking but it appears the real egg is back and hatching has started!

    • I was wondering. the cam was pointed to the wall so I wondered if that meant the egg was being swapped or maybe the cam operator went on break. either way, the pipping should be happening any day now.

  17. guess I was mistaken yesterday…and how sad the egg was no longer “viable” as the notice states. Do the parents know and do they exhibit any grief?

  18. Monitor, the egg is no longer viable ?? Where is this news posted .. I didn’t see it …

    Monitor’s note: On the Condor Cam page.

  19. I’ sorry this year’s egg from Sisquoc and Shatash is no longer viable. Will they lay another egg this breeding season?

    At least we will be able to watch another condor pair and their egg/chick. Thanks

  20. Oh my gosh that is so sad. Poor little baby bird.

  21. Hi Condor Team and bloggers, This is just so sad! I can barely look at the cam now because Shatash is still patiently sitting on the “egg.” The parents must not know that their poor little baby has died. When and how will they know? I’m glad that we’ll get to watch another family instead but it’s been so wonderful to watch Sisquoc and Shatash over the last 2 years. Condolences to all.

  22. To Ron and the Team so sorry to hear the news. Sometimes nature takes other if there was something wrong with the baby chick . How do the parent know will you take the egg way, and will they laid another egg ?

  23. I’m so sorry about the egg not being viable. Will the parents continue to sit on the dummy egg or do you put the real egg back so they can tell from that their chick won’t be hatching? So sad. Thanks.

  24. Sorry to hear about the latest egg (Sisquoc and Shatash’s). Does the staff know what happened to the egg to cause it to stop developing or would that be a freak occurrence?

    I wonder if Sisquoc and Shatash will grieve when they understand. What will they do in response?

  25. So very sorry to hear this news. Condolences to all.

  26. It’s so sad that the baby chick didn’t make it this year:( I was very sad and heart broken. I’ve been watching the past two years the chicks grow from little baby chicks to full grown adults. Hopefully they will produce another egg this year:)

  27. I’m sorry, too, about the egg. I’ve been watching condor cam since before Saticoy was born. I have the same questions that some others have had: What will you do with the parents and the dummy egg? Will they put the real egg back again and let the parents take care of it until they realize it won’t hatch? Thank you.

  28. Do we know what percentage of fertile condor eggs fail to hatch? I guess I am wondering if this occurs more often than we might think. If it does happen relatively often, it might be the case that Sisquoc and Shatash might not take it so hard (assuming they have an emotional response to this).

    • In the previous post, Ron stated that this was their 23rd egg, and 17 chicks have hatched. I would guess that this pair is more or less typical.

  29. I too am so sorry to hear the news of the egg not being viable. My questions are the same as everyone else’s on here about the parents grieving and what will happen to the egg now…just from reading the previous years updates that this has happened before and I’m sure it’s hard for the team each time this happens. May they(the parents) be able to have more healthy chicks in the future and may the new family we will be able to watch have a healthy chick to carry on the future. Thank you for all your hard work.

  30. So sorry to hear of the loss of the baby chick. Nature works in mysterious ways and possibly the chick was not healthy. Wishing
    Sisquoc and Shatash the best for a new, healthy egg!

  31. I was wondering when your nexted egg is due to hatch ?

    Monitor’s note: Mid-April. Look for a blog post very soon!

  32. Read about Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg not being able to hatch last week! Very sad to hear that! :( Is that their first egg that was not able to hatch? I know they have been successful hatching and raising their chicks in the last few years. I was on the condorcam late tonite, and I saw a momma condor laying on an egg with her head inside her wings sleeping. Is that Shatash or another condor mom laying on her egg? Let us know, ok? We’ll appreciate it alot!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL