Zoo vet, keepers help condor chick break out of shell

March 21, 2014 - 1:42pm

Endangered chick is reunited with parents after night with feather-duster 'mom'

It's been a busy week at the Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation. The first California condor chick of 2014 arrived Tuesday with quite a commotion — nearly jumping out of its eggshell and loudly announcing its presence to the world. The second chick — which hatched yesterday — arrived quietly and needed a little help.

Zookeepers and veterinarians performed an emergency assisted hatch, helping the little bird out of its egg and into the world by carefully snipping open sections of the shell. The chick had become stuck in the wrong position for hatching, unable to move inside its shell, and would not have survived without the intervention.

The chick was returned to its parents — dad Atishwin and mom Ojai — this morning, after spending the night in an incubator with a feather duster serving as surrogate mom.

"We only help like this when we have to," said Kelli Walker, the zoo's lead condor keeper. "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 Jan. 25, had been placed in an incubator to keep it safe until the hatch, while Atishwin and Ojai 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.

Earlier this week, 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 the chick was malpositioned inside the shell and would be unable to chisel its way out.

California condor numbers now total around 400, counting those in breeding programs and in the wild. More than 40 chicks have hatched at the Jonsson Center since the program began in 2003, and more than 25 Oregon Zoo-reared birds have gone out to field pens, with most released to the wild. In addition, several eggs laid by Oregon Zoo condors have been placed in wild nests to hatch.

The Oregon Zoo's condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open land. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.