A critically endangered California Condor chick hatched at the Oregon Zoo on April 11, but not without a little help.
Zookeepers and veterinarians performed an emergency “assisted hatch,” helping the little bird out of its egg and into the world. The chick had become stuck in the wrong position for hatching, unable to move inside its shell, and would not have survived much longer without the intervention.
“We only do this as a last resort,” said Kelli Walker, the zoo’s lead Condor keeper. “It’s kind of the Condor equivalent to an emergency C-section. There are so few of these birds in the world that each new chick is incredibly important to the recovery of the species.”
The egg, laid on February 14, had been placed in an incubator to keep it safe until the hatch, while the Condor parents, Malibu and Maluk, sat on a dummy egg. Usually, Walker waits for the chick to begin rotating in its shell, then returns the egg to its nest to hatch beneath the parents. This egg, though, proved unusual.
On April 7, monitoring the egg through a process called candling — using a bright light source behind the egg to show details through the shell — Walker could see that the chick was getting ready to hatch. At this point, keepers can usually see a “pip,” or mark, inside the shell, where the chick has begun chiseling its way out, but no internal pip was visible.
The next day, Walker saw that the chick was turned 180 degrees from normal hatching position. Because it was able to breathe and was still getting nutrition from the egg, Walker waited to see if it would rotate properly, but two days later there was still no change. The chick was stuck.
Growing concerned, Walker contacted zoo veterinarian Mitch Finnegan. Realizing that the chick would be unable to hatch alone, the two gently removed a portion of the shell and the chick popped its head out.
After a health checkup and a night spent in ICU, the chick was placed in the shell of a nonfertile egg Walker had saved from the previous year, and swapped for the dummy egg in the parents’ nest box.
“The chick was extremely mad and vocal, which is good,” Walker said. “I think Maluk must have heard it vocalizing, because he came into the nest area right away and started brooding. The chick seems to be doing well and is very active.”
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