Condor Cam: The Egg Has Pipped!

Pip, pip, hooray! Sisquoc and Shatash's egg is about to hatch.

Pip, pip, hooray! Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg is about to hatch.

The big hatch day is quickly approaching, and our devoted California condor parents, Sisquoc and Shatash, have been patiently caring for and incubating their egg. Well, actually, they’ve been caring for a wooden egg that we refer to as a “dummy” egg. We use a dummy egg as a type of placeholder until their real egg is ready to hatch. It’s not that we don’t trust them with a real egg; on the contrary, they have proven to be very reliable parents! But when we artificially incubate an egg while the parents sit on a dummy one, we can more closely and conveniently monitor the egg’s progress, and offer any necessary assistance without disturbing the doting parents. When the real egg is about to hatch, we carefully switch out the dummy egg while the parents are in the flight pen eating or sunning. They usually don’t even realize we switched eggs on them. They just return to their incubation duties—but now their egg is moving and squawking underneath them as they sit.

California condor eggs start the hatching process after 53 to 56 days of incubation. The process can first be seen when the air cell begins to quickly expand. The air cell is a pocket of air at the big end of the egg. Next time you crack open a chicken egg at home, look for the air cell. Once the air cell expands against the embryo’s beak, the membrane of the air cell is pierced, initiating pulmonary respiration—the first time the condor chick breathes air. The chick is now breathing in more oxygen than can enter through the pores of the eggshell, and as a result, carbon dioxide builds up in the egg. This buildup stimulates the chick to start pushing until the shell is finally broken, with a dime-sized bump raised in the shell. This is called a “pip.”

Once the chick pips the shell, more oxygen can enter the egg, and the chick continues the hatching process. Blood vessels lining the interior of the egg are shut off; the yolk sac is retracted into the chick via its umbilicus. We obviously cannot see these processes, but we can see the chick breathing, pushing or poking at the pip site, nibbling on shell membranes, and enlarging the pip site by breaking more shell. Every once in a while, we can even hear the chick squawk from inside!

When the yolk sac is fully retracted and the blood vessels are ready, the chick begins to rotate inside the egg. As the chick pushes against the interior of the shell, it breaks the shell. As you can imagine, this is a very tiring activity for the little chick! The parents don’t break any new sites on the shell for the chick, but they do remove pieces of shell. When the chick is almost fully rotated, it starts to push harder inside the egg, resulting in the shell expanding until the top comes off. This is called “capping.” The parents then help the chick more, removing the capped shell or even pulling the bottom of the eggshell off the chick. At this point, we consider the chick hatched!

The pip-to-hatch period can vary for each species of bird, but for California condors it can last between 48 and 72 hours. We have seen some parent-hatched chicks take a little longer (about 85 hours) to hatch with no ill effects.

Sisquoc and Shatash’s egg pipped very early in the morning on March 28, on day 53 of incubation—a couple of days earlier than we anticipated! While they were both eating in their flight pen, we quietly snuck into the nest and replaced the dummy egg with their pipped egg. If all continues to go well, it should hatch around the morning of March 31, but it could be slightly earlier or later. Check into <a href=””>Condor Cam</a> frequently to try and watch for the hatching chick. This is a rare opportunity to see the inside of a condor nest. We hope you enjoy this exciting event as much as we do! Happy viewing!

UPDATE April 2, 2016: Yesterday, animal care staff observed that the condor chick that was being monitored via condor cam was having difficulty during hatching.  They immediately removed the chick for veterinary care where it was assisted with its hatch and given medical support.  Today it appears to be active and alert.  Animal care and veterinary staff will continue to monitor it for the next few days.

Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Condor Breeding Season 2016.

26 Responses to Condor Cam: The Egg Has Pipped!

  1. Happy 33rd birthday to Sisquoc! :) It seems the egg has hatched close to or on his birthday in the past, too. Looking forward to watching this chick and being astonished at how fast they grow once again. Thanks so much Condor Team for all you do. I know these last two years have been extra busy.

    Monitor’s note: Busy in a very good way! :)

  2. Great news looking. forward to seeing our new baby chick arrive . Thank you Ron and the Team

  3. Just saw it breaking through!, how exciting!

    • Saw the chick move inside the egg! Pip is now quite enlarged – hopefully we have a hatch today!! :)

  4. Dad seemed to be looking down quite a bit as if the baby was here. Wish he’d move a little so we can see the egg. Congrats to Mom and Dad and everyone who took care of the new egg.

  5. Was just wondering … did I not see something correctly or did the baby not hatch yet? Is something wrong .. it seems to be taking way longer than normal?

    Monitor’s note: It’s still working on breaking that hard shell. According to Ron’s blog, it takes much longer than we might imagine for the chick to hatch completely. Also, rest assured that the Condor Team is watching the situation closely.

  6. thank you for the quick reply .. my friend and I are like nervous parents .. watching the cam and waiting for some good news!

  7. Hope everything ok with the condor chick video just gone off ?

  8. worried….

    • Me too Maddie

  9. Good morning Monitor, I know that you are all very busy and don’t have time for a lot of questions and answers, but with the camera being down since yesterday, we are all nervous and worried … any news or updates on the little one yet? Thank you much!

    Monitor’s note: Both Condor Cam and Elephant Cam are having glitches. I haven’t heard anything from the Condor Team so I have nothing to share. My fingers are crossed, too!

    • Thank you Monitor …

  10. Ron, where are you when we need you?

  11. Can some one tell us if the baby chick is ok and hatched. I know it takes time to fix the camera s but this was so close to seeing the chick hatch know you are all busy but need to know.

  12. Can some one tell us if the baby chick is ok and hatched. I know it takes time to fix the camera s but this was so close to seeing the chick hatch I. know you are all busy but need to know.

  13. Hello….anyone home?

  14. Dear Condor Cam friends,

    I just received this status on the chick:
    Yesterday, animal care staff observed that the condor chick that was being monitored via condor cam was having difficulty during hatching. They immediately removed the chick to veterinary care where it was assisted with its hatch and given medical support. Today it appears to be active and alert. Animal care and veterinary staff will continue to monitor it for the next few days.

    That’s likely all I will be able to find out until Monday, but rest assured I will share whatever else I learn. Thanks for your concern, and most of all, your patience and understanding.
    Your Dedicated Blog Monitor

  15. Thank you for the update.
    Will the chick be returned to Sisquoc and Shatash when it is stable? Will they accept it if they do no witness the hatching and are separated for a few days?
    I’ll understand if you are too busy to answer questions at this time.

    Monitor’s note: Since I am not part of the Condor Team—I just relay messages :)— I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I have let them know that people are concerned and curious. I’m sure they’ll continue to share information as they have it, and I’ll pass it on. Thanks for your understanding and support!

  16. Wonderful news…thank you condor team, medical team and everyone involved in bringing this precious chick safely into the world!

  17. Phewww…what a relief …

  18. Anxiously awaiting news about how the chick is doing.

    Monitor’s note: Me, too! :) Because the Condor Team is so busy, information is channeled through a single source—so I don’t have any news to share at this point, but will continue to update the blog as it comes in.

  19. good luck to the new condor chick. I hope it will be healthy.

  20. 不错,不错,看看了!
    Translation: Yes, yes, look at it!

  21. Good Morning Monitor,
    I know that you only get bits of information once it has been passed on to you from the condor team … but do you know anything new about the chick at all ?? How he/she is doing ?? Has he/she been placed back with the parents yet ?? Any update at all would be much appreciated !
    Thank you

    Monitor’s note: I just hit “publish” on a new blog with a very happy ending! Read Bad News, Good News, GREAT News!

  22. Hello condor team, First there is no where to leave a reply on the last condor blog, don’t know why?
    Also why are we only seeing the outdoor area and not the nest box ? Hope baby is doing well. Thanks

  23. Wow, such a beautiful process. I found the part about the dummy egg very interesting & I am happy you were able to help their baby bird make it’s grand entrance into the world safely. Great job to your team! Thanks for the interesting read.