Condor Chick Fostering: 1 Week to 1 Month

The condor chick is staying cool today!

The condor chick is staying cool today!

At two to three weeks of age, the real fun of condor chick-viewing begins! (See previous post, Condor Chick Fostering: Week 1) Our Condor Cam chick is getting bigger, weighing between 17 and 42 ounces (500 and 1,200 grams), and can often be seen poking its head out from under a parent’s wings. Towich and Sulu might be spending less time sitting on their foster chick, weather permitting, leaving it unattended for longer periods of time, possibly 30 minutes or so. Never fear! They are nearby, often just out of the camera’s view, just a few feet away.

It is usually easier to observe feeding behavior at this age, as well. Sulu or Towich stand a little to the side of the chick now, so you may catch a glimpse of food actually being transferred from parent to chick. The chick’s crop may be visible as a bald patch of skin when it’s full. It is between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. You will also witness a very common behavior called wing-begging; the chick is begging for food, flapping one or both of its stubby little wings and bobbing its head excitedly. This behavior can persist until after the chick fledges, or leaves its nest, at four to five months.

The chick hatched wearing a fluffy coat of white down feathers. The main function of down is insulation; it can either keep a bird cool or warm, whatever its body needs. At this stage, the chick’s white down is starting to transition to gray. Sometimes this can make the chick look dirty or scruffy, but it is still as healthy as it ever has been. It and the parents are frequently grooming the feathers to make sure they are working the way they should be. These dark feathers also help the chick blend in with the substrate and the nest cave walls, since Towich and Sulu are not covering the chick as much as they were.

You may have noted that the chick looks like it has scabs on its head/neck or has wounds on its body, matting its down feathers. This is actually regurgitated food stuck to its face or body. Feeding can be quite exciting for the chick, and some food doesn’t always end up in its mouth! The chick obviously can’t take a bath at this age, but the food will dries up, gets crusty, and flakes off, a major benefit of having a bald head! Anyone who has seen the adult condors eat on exhibit at Condor Ridge at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or Elephant Odyssey at the San Diego Zoo can attest to the condors’ ability to keep clean after a messy meal. Also, the presence of flies in the nest is nothing to worry about. Keep in mind that condors are carnivores, feed their chicks via regurgitation, and nest in cavities (caves, crevices, etc.) that are often sheltered from the wind. All of these components add up to a very comfortable environment for flies as well as condors. Yet condors have excellent immune systems and are only mildly annoyed by the flies!

As of this writing, our Condor Cam chick is a little over two weeks old. At three weeks of age, it can start to thermo-regulate, or control its own body temperature. This is when its devoted foster parents can start leaving the chick on its own during the day. Depending on the ambient temperature, the chick may be seen shivering or panting in an effort to warm or cool itself. Also, on warm days, the chick may inflate the air sacs in its chin and neck to cool down. Air sac inflation can also occur after a particularly filling meal. Often, Sulu or Towich may spend time in the nest with the chick, but they may not necessarily sit on the chick.

The chick is more mobile, scooting around the nest on its haunches, or tarsal joints. We refer to this as a tarsal crawl. It’s not quite standing up on its feet, but it can move about, following the parents and investigating different parts of the nest. You may see the chick start to gather items (feather, scraps of old food) from around the nest and move them to one corner. The chick likes to sit or sleep on this pile and play with the different items. These feathers and old food scraps are often brought to the nest by the parents. Birds replace their feathers molting, similar to when mammals shed their hair/fur. We don’t know if the parents are bringing these items to the nest specifically for the chick or if it’s just happenstance, but the chick loves to investigate and play with them!

As the parents start leaving the chick alone for longer periods of time, it will be easier to watch the chick when it sleeps. Just like all growing youngsters, condor chicks sleep A LOT. With longer legs and gawky bodies, they often are sprawled out, wings askew, in odd positions when they sleep. Do not worry! The chick is perfectly fine.

At approximately 1 month of age, the chick should weigh around 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms). The parents may start leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest. If the weather turns cool or it’s raining, the parents may continue to brood overnight. 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.

Happy viewing, and thanks so much for your support!

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

20 Responses to Condor Chick Fostering: 1 Week to 1 Month

  1. Thank you Ron for the update the chick is doing a lot and growing fast . Thank you to the great team.

  2. Fascinating report, it gives me a lot to look for, thank you Ron

  3. Thanks again for the fine update Ron. It helps to understand what’s going on and appreciate the chicks journey.

  4. Ron, thank you for giving us such insight into condor parenting. This daddy condor is so loving and caring to his little foster chick. It looks like he doesn’t want to share much with his mate though.

  5. I love to see the chick sleeping when you can see his/her eyes closed. So peaceful. Amazing how small their eyes are.

  6. that chicky looks so silly. he is napping on his tummy but the tip of his beak is pointing straight down into the substrate. I don’t know how comfortable that is but I also don’t know how comfortable any of his sleeping positions are !?!
    very cute regardless <3 <3

  7. Oops! How funny! Mom and Dad are fighting over the chick. Mom doesn’t get to be with the chick very often and doesn’t want to give in to Dad.

    • LOL. I have not been checking daily but I don’t think I’ve seen mom with chick once yet.

      • I’ve seen mom with the chick yesterday and today, both in the morning eastern time. A couple of hours later dad was back. So at least she seems to be getting once a day time !

  8. that condor chickie is so cute. I feel like he has a hard time figuring out where to put his head when resting though.

    • chickie is wandering to the side of the nest opening. I guess he will be figuring out how to jump onto the ledge. I don’t see feathers coming in quite yet.

  9. Is it just me or with those long, bald legs and huge feet does the chick look like “Big Bird” from Sesame Street? Especially when it is laying flat on its stomach.

    • The chick definitely looks like big bird when he/she is laying down. The first time I saw that I thought something was wrong. I didn’t realize that they sleep like that.

  10. Ron, at what age do you give the chick his/her first physical examination and when will we find out the gender? Thanks!

    Monitor’s note: We normally conduct the first exam at around 45 days of age. Our previous chick’s (Cuyamaca) gender was determined during her second exam at around 100 days.

  11. Wow! Look at that chick go! He is walking almost like a big condor!

  12. Hi Ron I was wondering, I don’t remember Cuyamaca being on his own as much . Has our new condor chick is . Are all parents different ?

    Ron responds: Yes, each pair has subtle differences in parenting strategies (just like people do!), but the general habits are consistent. Usually, the condors start leaving their chick alone more often when it is approximately 30 days old. We saw this more reliably with Sisquoc and Shatash when they were raising their chicks Saticoy (in 2012) and Cuyamaca (in 2013). This year, Towich and Sulu have been observed leaving their chick alone at about 20 days. This may be because Towich and Sulu are confident in their surroundings and are not concerned with leaving the chick on its own periodically. They do tend to be more relaxed parents than some of the other pairs. They are often just out of the camera’s view, in the adjoining roost area. Also, this spring has been unseasonably warm here at the Safari Park, resulting in the chick needing to be brooded less. Either way, we are very happy with the chick’s progress. We will be conducting the chick’s first scheduled health exam soon, when it is 45 days old. Stay tuned for a new blog describing the procedure.

  13. Looks like Cuyamaca and Kuyam were released today at Vermillion Cliffs if I got their SB numbers correct…679 and 680. What exciting news if so! :-) Live long and prosper…

  14. This chick is really active. Up on its feet and all over the nest. I’ll be waiting to hear how its first exam goes and what sex it is.
    Glad to hear that Cuyamaca is flying free. May she live long and raise lots of chicks.
    Thanks for making this possible.

  15. Does Chickie spend the night alone? Or do the parents brood him/her at night? How often does he get fed? Does he demand food like the wilds bird chicks in my garden? I guess the webcam is video only and not audio.

    Ron responds: The chicks usually spend the night alone after they are about a month old. Towich and Sulu started leaving their chick at night a little earlier than usual this year; we believe it’s because it has been unseasonably hot, and the chick did not need brooding for as long. The chick is fed several times a day by the parents. We provide approximately 3 pounds of food per day for the chick in the parents’ flight pen. The parents can eat from this extra pile of food whenever they please and deliver it up to the nest to feed the chick via regurgitation. The chicks beg for food from the parents. You’ve probably seen this behavior already: the chick flaps its wings, stretches its neck toward the parents, and grunts. It’s very similar to the birds in your garden, just not as quick because of the condor’s size. As the chicks get bigger, the begging can get more forceful. So, the parents may leave the nest immediately after feeding to avoid any persistent begging from the chick.

  16. Chickie is looking very robust. seems like he is getting darker.
    does the zoo/safari park usually wait until after the physical exam (to get gender results) and then names the chick? I forgot the past process. are names chosen which are gender neutral?