Condor Feeding Behavior

Around the corner to the right is where the condors are fed.

The condors are fed around the corner to the right.

After fledging, a growing young condor starts to eat on its own, with the parents continuing to feed the youngster every once in a while. At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we do things a bit differently, as the fledged birds are moved to a remote socialization pen with other young release candidates and a mentor bird or two. We don’t move fledglings to the socialization pen until we’ve made sure they have been seen feeding themselves. The mentor birds do not feed anybody.

This year’s Condor Cam chick, Su’nan, who hatched on April 29, 2014, was starting to eat on her own when she was with her parents. When we saw that she was eating on her own, we were comfortable moving her to the socialization pen with the other young release candidates. We drop all of the food at the same time through a chute in the wall, hiding us from the young birds’ view. The most dominant members of the group (usually the biggest or the most experienced) eat first or displace other birds that may be in their way. The subordinate, younger birds usually wait until the dominant birds finish or let them come and eat with them.

Eventually, as the subordinate birds gain experience, they may move up in the social hierarchy. Currently, Su’nan is near the bottom of the pecking order, as expected, due to her size and age. She is doing just fine, though. Feeding is very competitive, just like it is in the wild. It may look rough and impolite to us, but we must remember that the condors are working under the rules that work best in their social system, not ours. This experience the youngsters are getting will better prepare them for a free-flying life in the wild.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Condors Saticoy and Cuyamaca Flying Free.

8 Responses to Condor Feeding Behavior

  1. Thank you so much for all the information that you give us on Su’nan. I have been watching her since her birth. I caught her on the cams once sitting oh so pretty on the nearest tree. I keep looking for her and hopefully will see her again, it gets quite hard reading their tags at times. Keep up the great work it is greatly appreciated by all us from afar.

  2. Ron
    It’s so nice to read your regular reports. I, too have watched Su’nan from birth and have felt a bond with her! I saw her this morning on the nearest tree – she looked magnificent! Would it be possible to post the feeding times so we can see the flock in action?
    Thank you very much for the updates and the wonderful work you do in helping these majestic and endangered birds.

    Ron responds: We feed the condors on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Feeding times range between 8 and 11 a.m., but we don’t clean up the leftovers, in an effort to limit human interactions with any release candidates. So it is possible to see the condors nibbling on some old food any day of the week.

  3. To the person running the camera a few minutes ago….thank you for the mini tour of the pen and the close-ups of the birds. It was good to see the birds looking well. And the close-up of the “educator” ladies was good, the “senior” looks grand.

  4. Is someone there all of the time? and, how often do they get fed? Thank you Ron for the updates.

    Ron responds: Condor keepers are here from dawn to dusk, and our security staff is here 24 hours a day. The condors are fed four times a week. We implement three fast days per week. Condors don’t eat every day in the wild; they can go for two weeks without eating, if they need to. If we offered food every day, we would be wasting food and possibly creating obese and unhealthy condors. We offer food on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Their diet, depending on the day, consists of a combination of rats, rabbits, trout, beef spleen, and ground meat. In the wild, they try to eat anything that is already dead, ranging from mice to whales.

  5. I wish I would have seen the tour and close ups. Been watching just now and I saw a little scuffle between 2 birds, I think 1 was the older bird, hopefully the other wasn’t our little Su’nan. There was quite a bit of chasing and one got sat on at the end. Never seen that before.

  6. That was very interesting! thanks again Ron.

  7. Wow not too often you get to see all 9 together at once, wish I was able to read their tags, have a magnifying glass handy lol

  8. I so appreciate the work you do with the condors. I totally enjoy watching the chicks. Thank you….but

    Is there something wrong with the camera or is it my computer? I’ve seen the same picture for 3 days with the gears cycling on it, but nothing ever changes.

    Monitor’s note: The Condor Cam is working fine on my computer. What browser are you using? Is your Flash up to date?

    Update: The Condor Cam is not working on our app. We are working on restoring it there.