Condor Chick Fostering: 30 to 45 Days

The growing chick has lots of feathers to play with.

The growing chick has lots of feathers to play with.

At a little over 1 month of age, our California condor chick should weigh around 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms) (see previous post, Condor Chick Fostering: 1 Week to 1 Month). The foster parents, Towich and Sulu, have started leaving the chick alone overnight, sleeping near the nest. If the weather is still cool or it’s raining, the parents may 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 call it the 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 gets 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 45 days of age, or around June 12, the chick will get its first health exam. We will obtain a blood sample for the lab to make sure it is healthy and to determine if the chick is male or female. Also, during the exam, we will weigh the chick—it should weigh between 7.7 and 8.8 pounds (3.5 and 4 kilograms)—and inject a transponder chip as a form of identification. It’s the same kind of chip you can get for your dog or cat. Most importantly, this exam allows us to administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, a disease that originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to North America by humans. North American wildlife, including condors, usually doesn’t have a natural immune response to West Nile virus, so we are trying to give the chicks as much of a head start as we can.

This exam will be the first time that the chick will see humans, so it will naturally be disturbing for it. We try to be quick (9 to 10 minutes) to minimize the disturbance. Additionally, we will keep the chick covered with a towel to reduce its exposure to humans and to provide it a bit of security. Towich and Sulu are usually away from the nest when we perform the procedure, to keep them as calm as possible as well. We don’t want the chick 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.

The chick 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.

10 Responses to Condor Chick Fostering: 30 to 45 Days

  1. I check on the the little condor from time to time and enjoy watching… Does anyone know if it is male or female?…I love to see the parents feeding it… the little guy gets so excited and then they leave..
    Thank you for your work, it’s appreciated.

    Monitor’s note: We’ll know if the nest should be decorated in blue or pink after the first exam at 45 days.

    • I think staff cannot tell from looking at the chick’s body. They have to get the gender from the blood sample.

  2. Thank you Ron for the news. This baby chick is always eating . He she gets very excited when Dad comes in it seems to me Mom doesn’t get to feed baby has much. Does that happened sometimes?

  3. Ron
    Thanks for maintaining this blog and providing updates. I look at the webcam regularly to make sure Chickie is breathing! It feels like being a parent of a baby once again!

  4. Thanks again Ron, I love watching and reading your blog.

  5. aww, that sweet chick is getting so big now.

  6. So sweet to see Mom and baby snuggling and preening each other.

  7. Ummmm, on second thought, maybe they’re not so sweet to each other. Pecking got a bit rough and looks like baby’s feelings are hurt.

  8. I thought I saw a bald patch on Chickie’s breast. Could this be due to the aggressive preening by Mommy?

    • All condors have a bald patch on their breast where feathers don’t grow. This is where their crop is located. The crop is a bulge in their esophagus where they can store food. When the crop is empty, the bald patch is harder to see; feathers are usually covering it. When a condor has eaten, the bald lump of skin shows through the feathers. An adult can store up to 3.5 lbs. of food in their crop. The skin color is very pale for nestlings, black for juveniles, and pink for adults.