To Fledge or not to Fledge…

Su'nan is back in her nest...for now!

Su’nan is back in her nest…for now!

That is the question.

Fledging is the process in which a young bird leaves the nest. We consider a California condor chick to be fledged when it can fly to the higher perches in the flight pen, approximately 10 feet off the ground. When condor chicks fledge, they tend to be 140 to 150 days old. The youngest bird to fledge here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was 123 days old. Su’nan in now 162 days old, but she has yet to fledge.

Many viewers have been worried about this Condor Cam chick’s health and/or development. First of all, let me assure you that Su’nan is very healthy and safe. We are not concerned that she is a “late bloomer.” Although she may be a little behind compared to some of our condor chicks, we have had birds fledge even later than this.

Our condor nest boxes are on the second floor of the condor breeding facility. The nests have one entrance that leads to the roost area. The entrance has an 18-inch barrier at the base to prevent young hatchlings from wandering out of our camera’s view. This barrier also provides exercise for the chick when it is big enough to start jumping up onto the barrier. The roost area is open to the flight pen and has a ledge that is about 8 feet above the ground. There is a 5-inch-diameter pole leaning from the ground to the ledge; we call this the “pole ladder.” The condors can walk up or down this pole ladder to get to or from the nest; they can, of course, fly to the nest as well.

Early in the day on September 24, at 149 days of age, Su’nan walked down the pole ladder into the flight pen for the first time. Her parents, Towich and Sulu, kept a close eye on her as she investigated her new surroundings. She drank from the pool, even dunking her head in the water. She picked at old food from the ground. She had a fun time hopping around and flapping her wings. Towich and Sulu watched nervously, making sure their chick was safe and didn’t stray too far from the nest. At one point, when she did move to where her parents were uncomfortable, they corralled her back toward the nest. Frustration ensued and some firm discipline followed. Please note that Towich and Sulu were merely trying to protect their chick, their “investment,” you might say! Su’nan did not take kindly to this, and she stayed on the ground, hiding behind a sumac bush for the remainder of the day. Towich and Sulu made attempts to try to get her back up the pole ladder and back into the nest, but Su’nan did not comply. Su’nan spent that night out of the nest, on the ground in the pen. Her parents perched nearby to watch over her.

The next morning, after Towich and Sulu again tried to move her toward the nest, she finally climbed back up the pole ladder and quickly hopped back into the nest box. She stayed in there for several days, eventually warming back up to her parents’ company. Regular feeding bouts were reestablished. She has been a little standoffish with Towich, but he is the one to do most of the disciplining and preening—two necessary activities that the chicks don’t seem to appreciate. Sulu usually just comes into the nest to feed; naturally, Su’nan is more excited to see her! It’s important to note that BOTH parents are still heavily invested in this chick and are trying their best to ensure her success.

When condor chicks fledge in the wild, it can be a long process as well. They often walk around the mouth of their nest cave, hopping about, testing their wings. They may hop or climb into nearby shrubs or trees to get a better vantage point. Very seldom do chicks just spring forth from their nest into the wild, blue yonder. They usually need to exercise and build their abilities before embarking on such a dangerous venture. Mom and Dad are always present to escort or protect the chicks, too. Parent condors can be very vigilant and defensive of their chicks. After all, much energy and many resources went into producing just this one chick, so they try very hard to ensure success for their only nestling. One pair of condors in California actually chased a black bear away from the nest!

Su’nan is starting to come back out into the roost and onto the ledge. She has been seen testing her wings on the ledge in the morning sun. Her wings are looking nice and full. Hopefully soon, she will take that next step and fledge into the flight pen. When she does, we will be sure to switch the Condor Cam view to the pen view so you can watch her.

So what’s next for Su’nan once she fledges? She’ll stay in the pen with her parents for a little while longer. She is still learning from them. In the wild, condor chicks stay with or around their parents for up to 18 months. We don’t let them stay that long here at the Park. If we did, the next breeding season would probably be compromised; the presence of the fledgling may prevent the parents from breeding the next year, or the parents may turn aggressive to the chick if they try to nest again. Soon, Su’nan will be removed from her parents so they can prepare for the next breeding season, and she will be introduced to other birds her age and an adult bird to act as a behavioral mentor.

And on that note, we have some exciting news! This year, we were able to install some cameras at our remote socialization pen at the Safari Park. Once Su’nan is moved up there with the other young condors, we will be able to provide a view from those cameras, so you will be able to watch Su’nan for much longer than you were able to watch the previous Condor Cam chicks, Saticoy and Cuyamaca.

The interest and enthusiasm over the hatch and growth of Su’nan have been wonderful. We really appreciate all of the comments and questions we have received throughout her development. Thanks again for all of your patience and support. We couldn’t do it without you!

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

36 Responses to To Fledge or not to Fledge…

  1. Hi Everyone
    Wow thank you so much for all this great information. I am learning a lot from this site about all the animals. I tell my 2 grandkids (boys) about all the little babies and their parents explaining what happens as they grow and it is exciting for both of us. I really do appreciate the quick and detailed response that is always given to every concern and question. Keep up the great work you do…….

  2. thanks for the reassuring post Ron. I am glad to hear there will be a cam in the juveniles’ socialization area. it will be interesting to see how Su’nan interacts with her peers. and I was also curious how the mentor condor behaves too. very good news.

  3. Ron, Thanks for the great information about Su’nan and for your patience with all of us aunties and our myriad questions. This is so exciting!

  4. What a grate update Ron, didn’t have a clue as to what was going on with her. Good parenting!

  5. Thanks Ron for the interesting report and for letting us know what had happened. Everything you said makes total sense to me. It explains Su’nan’s behavior so altho I rather feel a bit sorry for her sensitivity, I feel better knowing the reason for her behaviors. Technically it sounds like she has fledged. How human like the parents behavior, sending her back to the nest box when they saw she wasn’t ready for the discipline needed after fledging. I also find it very touching when I remember the day shortly after her fledge that Towich laid down next to her in the nest box. As if he knew of her sensitivity and was reassuring her that all would be well. I’m glad she had that day of fun so she knows what’s out there waiting for her, that it’s nothing to be afraid of. And she knows she can go there anytime she wants ( pending parental approval ). I see her looking that way so much that I’m sure it won’t be long until she visits the flight pen again, she wants to go.

  6. whoops, sorry Ron, I just re-read your post, and somehow forgot the part where you said that Su’nan hasn’t fledged. I didn’t realize they had to actually fly to fledge either. Soon, soon…

  7. Thanks for the update Ron. I’m anxiously waiting to see the day that she does fledge. All in due time.

  8. Isn’t that just like an adolescent? Gets punished and then goes to their room to sulk.

  9. Looks like our girl might have gotten into trouble again….back in the corner, head down…sigh.

    • I’m going to try to remember these times when my heart is breaking for Su’nan because it becomes time for her to leave her parents. Maybe life will be easier for her when she’s on her own, altho she’ll still have to be disciplined in how to become an adult condor. But maybe a change of scenery and watching the other condors going thru the same thing might help.
      Laura…loved your comment about just like an adolescent!

  10. Miss Su’nan is sitting on the ledge. I wonder what she is thinking about.

  11. “…we were able to install some cameras at our remote socialization pen at the Safari Park” YES; YES; YES!!!!!

  12. wow I just saw Su’nan fly out from the outer nesting area a few minutes ago, I see the odd flapping from outside as if she is trying to get back in, will keep fingers crossed

  13. Carlos or anyone…please, how do I get to the flight pen cam? I can’t find it

  14. Beautiful happy Su’nan is flying in and out and seems to be really enjoying her new found freedom

    • Viv…please tell me where to see what you’re seeing

  15. Hi Sheryl;
    I am watching the regular condor web cam it goes between showing Su’nan in her nest, where she is now, and then if we are lucky when she jumps on ledge and wanders into the outer nest it sometimes pans that area, and if we are very lucky and she jumps to the outer perch she will fly off it again. I don’t know when they will move it back to the actual outside flying area hopefully soon when she stays out there longer and more often. I was just lucky to catch her fly out yesterday and again this morning she was going out and in and having a riot

  16. Thanks Viv, I didn’t realize it was the same cam. I’ll try to keep it on more today so I can see it hopefully. She’s sitting on the perch right outside the nest now. I didn’t know that when she fledged she would return to the nest for awhile. Thanks again, good luck seeing Su’nan fly to all of us!

  17. Sheryl did u see her fly out just now

    • No, I missed it again darn. I would love to see her fly, she’s back in the nest again. Tomorrow I’ll be limited in my watching, Tues I’ll have more time. By then she may be flying all around the flight pen on cam I hope. I’m glad you saw her fly again, Viv.

  18. Awww!! Shes hopping from ledge to ledge…and spreading out those wings looking SO majestic! I wish I could stay and watch more…but gotta sleep for work tonight…dag nabbit!! GO Su’nan!!! <3 <3 <3

  19. Thank you Ron for the new update Su nan is just taking her time ,her feathers look very beautiful and she looks very regal standing on her ledge. It’s hard to belive how the time has gone . I am very pleased we will get to see her when she gos with other condors. Great work

  20. WQW…she’s passed the 165 days…

  21. Ron,

    I am a webcam monitor and on October 15 at around 10:05 am, after being fed by Towich, Sunan hopped back up on the perch and then took off out of view of the camera. I’m not sure if this was the first time for her, but I thought you’d like to know in case it was!

    • Wow Ann! This is so great to hear…thank you! She knew how to keep her adoring audience in limbo…but only she knew when she was ready…naking sure she was good and matured and strong enough…to make her first flight a beautifully awkward one..and not just awkward! We adore you precious Su’nan!!

  22. I just barely saw her fly (?) off the perch and out of view. I am now (10:25 am) seeing her shadow and also seeing her come back and out again!


    Monitor’s note: Yes, that is the next step for them. You can read about a transfer of condors to our Baja California, Mexico, release site here…

  24. Hi Ron,
    Thank you and the staff for the wonderful job you are doing.
    It is my understanding that Saticoy is flying free along our middle California coast.
    Last I heard Chyamacha was in the transition pen in Arizona in preparation for her release.
    Do you have an update on them?

    Monitor’s note: We hope to have an update soon, but this is the busy season for our Condor Team.

  25. little Su’nan must be about in the pen area. her nest is empty and no one is visible outside the ledge.

    • hiya Su’nan (she is resting in the nest). where have you been little girly??
      so cute. <3

  26. OK, kiddo
    You need to be back in the roost when the street lights come on!

  27. Uh oh, more possible trouble for our girl…Towich is sitting on the roost, can’t tell if it’s Su’nan or Sulu but by the body language I fear it’s Su’nan because she’s sitting in the sand next to him with her head down. Looks like there was more discipline and she can’t handle it. I feel so sorry for her. If it’s her ( I haven’t seen her in quite awhile ) she’s got beautiful white cascading plumes of white down her lower back.

  28. Just few minutes later, she looks better, head’s up, she’s looking out. I probably overreacted.

  29. Haven’t seen her in a while…has she fledged?

    Monitor’s note: Yes! Look for a new post in a day or so.

  30. I watch Cams using iPhone App & often have trouble with Id of the birds; apart from dad with yellow tags. From reading the preceding Comments I fear I have missed or misread so much of the last 2 weeks activity in the nest. My first mistake is in Id of birds when I thought I was seeing mum but now think it was Sūnan. Secondly, thinking she was in the nesting box because Cam is still facing in. About 3 days ago I was viewing dad & Sūnan as she left ledge. Dad then left after some time but he went in & out many times before finally staying outside (with the novice) I assume. Is there much difference in appearance between the girls? And finally did mum spend time in the nestbox last week or just feed & leave? Thankyou Ron for your great blog. Have enjoyed watching but it’s more rewarding to have this info about the family interaction. Be strong Sūnan & stay safe.