Condor Chick Fostering: First Exam

Boy or girl? We'll find out soon!

Boy or girl? We’ll find out soon!

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the California condor chick you’ve been watching on Condor Cam received its first health exam. The goal was to obtain a blood sample for our labs, administer a vaccine for West Nile virus, inject a microchip for identification, and weigh the chick.

The first step in this process is to separate the parents from the chick. Of course, the foster parents (father Towich and mother Sulu) don’t want any invaders in the nest and do their best to defend the chick and keep it safe, as all good parents do. Adjacent to the flight pen, we have a shift pen, used to safely and calmly move large or dangerous animals from one area to another. We offer all of the condors’ diet in the shift pen, so Towich and Sulu are very comfortable entering the shift pen for every meal. We shifted Towich into the pen and kept him there until after the exam. From his shift pen, he cannot see the nest area, so he was unaware that we were even in his nest, thus keeping him very calm. He ate and waited patiently until he had access back into his flight pen.

Sulu was not shifted but instead was able to see us go into her nest. We posted one keeper in the nest entryway to keep Sulu out, while another keeper entered the nest and covered the little chick with a towel. This is the first time that the 45-day-old chick had ever seen a person and was understandably nervous and defensive, hissing and lunging at the intruder. Once under the cover of the towel, the chick could not see and calmed down. It was then brought into the adjoining vestibule where our veterinarian staff was waiting.

First, the veterinarian obtained a blood sample from the chick’s leg. This sample was sent to the lab to make sure that the chick is healthy. Also, our geneticists can determine if it is male or female from this sample. Next, a vaccine for West Nile virus was administered and a microchip was injected under the chick’s skin. The veterinarian did a quick health assessment, checking the chick’s eyes, nares (nostrils), beak, feet, legs, wings, and abdomen. Lastly, we weighed the chick to make sure it was growing on schedule.

While the exam took place, a third keeper was able to enter the nest to clean the camera domes and make sure there were no hazards in the nest cavity. The whole exam, from capture to release, took about 10 minutes.

Once the exam was over, the chick was returned to the nest and Sulu was allowed to approach and check on her baby. The chick was rightfully disturbed by this process, despite our best intentions to minimize stress. Although we feel bad that the chick was so nervous, it is actually good that it was not comfortable in our presence. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want the young condor to become accustomed to or feel reassured by humans; 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. Condors that show an affinity for humans seldom survive in the wild.

For several minutes, the chick showed a defensive posture, hissing at everything it saw, even its mother. Sulu slowly approached her chick and calmly preened it, eventually soothing it. That is the reason we shifted only one parent; we wanted the other parent present to calm the chick after the exam. After only about two minutes, the chick was showing proper begging behavior, resulting in a feeding session from Sulu. With everyone appearing calmer, Towich was let out of his shift pen. About five minutes after that, he approached the nest to peek in on the chick and to perch in the adjoining roost area.

So far, the health exam looks to have been successful. Hopefully, the blood work will show that the chick is healthy. The veterinarian’s initial inspection revealed that the chick’s eyes and nares were clear, the feet, legs, and wings were solid, and its vitality was very strong. The chick weighed 6.8 pounds (3.10 kilograms) and was about the size of a bowling ball. We hope to receive the sex results from the Genetics Lab soon. When we do, we’ll let you know if the chick is a male or a female.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condor Chick Fostering: 30 to 45 Days.

23 Responses to Condor Chick Fostering: First Exam

  1. Loved reading about the chicks exam…How wonderful you planned everything to make this time easy for parents and chick….Thank you. Next the news will be if it’s a boy or girl….Doesn’t matter to me as long as it is healthy…..

  2. Good job Ron!! What’s about Saticoy and Cuyamaca?

  3. I call the chick “her”. Can’t wait to find out :)

  4. Thank you Ron on the. Update everything seems to be on track. Great news and a Great Team. It’s amazing how quick they grow, love the saying (as big has a bowling ball ).

  5. chickie is looking quite big. nice to see him or her looking quite robust. and cute.

  6. Saw the chick. Peeking out of the nest this morning. It’s amazing how quick he she is growing.

  7. Ron I was wondering if when this chick is older will it have problems mixing with other condors . Because the parents don’t seem to spend a lot of time with baby condor. I know you did say these parents are always near.?

    • I am another cam viewer but after Saticoy (the first condor chick on this cam) fledged, he spent a period socializing with his peers and an older female CA Condor. I can’t remember her name but I think she was expected to help keep the youngsters in check and teach them how to behave with older condors in the wild. like the current chick, Saticoy was very feisty in the nest with parents and pecked at them quite a bit. but he settled down and was very popular with his peers, getting along with all of them. hopefully this current chick will follow in his footsteps.
      (if anyone has a better memory than me, please feel free to make corrections but that is to the best of my recollection)

      Monitor’s note: His mentor was Xananan. Read more about those days in Condor Saticoy Update.

      • thanks monitor! I was looking for just that post but did not search far back enough. excellent, thank you.

  8. little chickie is growing so fast. dark feathers are coming in at the outer parts of his wings. (or her)
    chicks seem to develop too quickly.

  9. gee, chickie is getting big very quickly. I’m just checking in every couple of days. I wonder if he is trying to jump to the ledge yet? amazing. it seems like all birds (flying creatures) seem to grow so quickly after hatching. their rate of maturation and age of weaning seems so fast relative to an elephant or human.

  10. Any response from the genetics lab yet?

  11. How are the chicks’ names determined? It seems they all are native American names but how are they chosen? (By the way, I hope “Phyllis” and “Conrad” are not out of the running…..!)

    • We use words from the Kumeyaay language to name the condors.

      • Oh, that makes sense. I suspect this is because the language is spoken by native Americans in what is now San Diego county (where the Safari Park is located). I also suspect “Phyllis” and “Conrad” are definitely out of the running then……. Thanks for your response!

  12. This morning a parent was standing on the ledge preening itself and chick repeatedly stretched way up to nibble on parents toes and breast feathers, until parent gently used his beak to nudge the chick’s beak away. Both seemed to enjoy this sparring. A few times the chick’s wing stretched way up over the ledge and he tried to pull himself up closer to parent. Fun to watch the interaction.

  13. Still waiting to hear if the chick is a boy or a girl. I enjoy watching it. It’s more active than I remember either Saticoy or Cuayamaca being. Enjoy its work with the feathers, almost like nest building at times. Yet there is no nest building among these birds. Guess its just playing.

    How are Saticoy and Cuayamca doing? Has she been released?

    Thanks for this opportunity to watch these fascinating birds. And more important, for helping to bring them back from certain extinction.

    • Saticoy was released last November in So. Calif. and Cuyamaca was released in Arizona last month. Hoping they both prosper and produce many wild chicks in the future! :-)

  14. chickie is poking his head up over the ledge. I imagine he is curious to see what parents are doing on the other side.

  15. It’s a girl congratulations ! When will we get to pick a name.

    Monitor’s note: Starting today! Here’s the link.

  16. Hi, when does the baby leave the nesting area? Do the parents help her out or does she need to be able to jump out on her own, if so at what age will this normally happen. Does she need to be taught how to fly etc. and will we be able to see all this on the web cam. Thanks again for the chance to participate in this wonderful experience.

    Ron responds: You’ll see her start to exercise her wings more often in the form of strong flapping. As her wings gain more surface area, she will be able to lift her body off of the nest floor. She won’t be able to fly, but she’ll be a step closer. Plus, her legs are getting stronger and more coordinated, allowing her to jump higher. We expect her to be able to jump up onto the entry barrier of the nest box any day now. This usually happens between 90 and 110 days of age (she is 75 days old today, July 14). It could be earlier or later, as each chick develops at a different rate.

  17. The camera has been off most of the day I hope our condor chick is ok . She is really getting big I haven’t. Seen her go on the ledge yet. Great work love watching .

    Monitor’s note: The chick is fine, but we’re having power issues with the cam. We’re working on it!

  18. Can you tell us if the our condor chick has taken to the ledge yet ? Hope you are able to get the camera working soon. if you have time let us know thank you