Zoo Rescue Operation Saves Endangered Condor Chick


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.



Photo Credits:  Michael Durham for Oregon Zoo

“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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First Condor Chick of Season at San Diego Zoo Safari Park


Wesa, a two-week-old California Condor chick, hatched on February 24, 2013, making this chick the first of the season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Wesa has maintained a healthy weight and has quite an appetite according to keepers, eating up to 15 mice daily.

Ron Webb, a San Diego Zoo Safari Park senior Condor keeper, has been monitoring Wesa closely and has been puppet rearing the chick as part of preparing Wesa to be released into the wild one day.


Photo credits: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park


"The puppet is like a fancy glove," said Rob Webb, senior Condor keeper, "It covers our hands so the chick does not get any beneficial experiences from people. We do not want it imprinting on people or getting used to us when it goes out into the wild.  We want it to be a nice, wild animal, not relying on people for food."

Wesa is a part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's highly successful California Condor breeding program.  Since the California Condor Recovery Program began in the 1980s, when there were only 22 condors left in the world, the Safari Park has hatched 173 chicks and released more than 80 birds into the wild. Today, there are over 400 condors, half of which are flying free at release sites in Baja California, Mexico, California and Arizona.

Bald is Beautiful for Andean Condor Chicks

Germany’s Potzberg Wildpark has been a hotbed of Andean Condor hatchings, and 2012 is no exception.  Two chicks hatched to parents Josephine and Napoleon in June.  A male hatched on June 2 and a female on June 28.  Since 2009, the pair has produced eight chicks.

When Josephine laid her first egg, she and Napoleon fought in the nest.  To avoid damage to the egg, zoo keepers separated Napoleon from his mate.  But once it came time to brood her egg, Josephine ignored it.  Keepers then removed the egg and incubated it artificially.

The Andean Condor chicks are growing fast.  About the size of a tennis ball at birth, the chicks grow to the size of a basketball by four weeks of age.   As adults, the males have a wingspan of up to 10.5 feet (320 cm) and weigh up to 33 pounds (15 g).  Adult female condors have deep red eyes.

In most birds of prey, it’s difficult to determine a hatchling’s gender, but with Andean Condors, it’s easy.  Males sport a comb on their heads, while females do not.  The chicks are hand fed every three hours and enjoy cozy indoor quarters, where keepers keep a close eye on them. 



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