California condor breeding season runs from January to mid-October. In the off-season is when keepers are able to conduct maintenance work. Keeper do this to ensure that no unnecessary stress is caused during egg production, incubation or rearing.
During the month and a half keepers had to work in the breeding facility they made repairs such as: replacing wood chewed by the curious condors, securing perches, fixing leaking valves on pools, repairing doors on shift pens and adding visual barriers that block the chicks view of humans.
The majority of the flight pens also need weeding opening up the ground floor so the parents are able to forage for food and small bones which is preparation for laying eggs. Trees are shrubs which are obscuring cameras are also pruned. These cameras which point at the nest and the pens are also serviced and cleaned.
One of the most important checks to do is on the condors themselves. Each one receives a health exam every two years. This year six of the parks twenty-eight condors needed a check. Vets will draw blood samples to check for diseases the birds are carrying. A faecal test is also conducted to see if any parasites are present. They also do a full body inspection checking the tail, wings, feather condition, heart rate, respiration rate, eyes, ears and mouth. Wing tags that need to be replaced are. The birds are weighed before they are released back into the pen.
An important piece of maintenance is to clean the nests. In the wild condors spread a number of nest sites around their territory. They will not use the same nest cave each year allowing the nest cave time to dry out and eliminate potential hazards such as insects and disease. At the Safari Park only one nest site is provided so they need to be cleaned each year. This entails scrubbing and repainting the walls along with changing the sand.
This year’s breeding season has had a slow start but already two eggs have been laid. Well known pair Sisquoc (say SISS-kawkk) the male and Shatah (say SHA-tawsh) the female from Condor Cam laid their egg on February 13. These two have raised chicks on Condor Cam in 2012 and 2013. Their 2014 egg was unable to hatch though so the pair raised an egg off camera. Keepers hope that the public will be able to watch the egg hatch around April 11 if it does.
Male, Simerrye (say SIM-er-eye) and female, Ojja (say OH-jah) laid their egg 15 minutes after the first pair. It didn’t make it past day 14 though and died. This happens from time to time. Keepers removed the egg from the nest in an effort to encourage the female to recycle. This process takes about 30 days to occur. If Ojja is not now out of season she may lay another egg around April 5.
Currently keepers only expect three to four eggs this year. This is in part due to the three new pairings out of seven that the park has. These are due to new breeding recommendations from the California Condor Recovery Program which are based on genetic analysis. It may be up to a year before the new pairs settle down with each other. The other established pair consists of a five year old female which is close to laying age but not quite there yet.
Other facilities such as the Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo and the World Centre for Birds of Prey have also been having slow years. The good news is that wild condor nests have already been found at the wild release sites.
Remember to keep an eye on condor cam to potentially see an egg hatching.
Photo Credits: San Diego Zoo Safari Park