Tiny, loudmouthed condor chick is first hatch of season

March 18, 2014 - 2:41pm

Maluk and Malibu's new hatchling is earliest since zoo started breeding condors

The first California condor chick of the season hatched this morning at the Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, and keepers say the young bird appears healthy, loud and full of fight — traits that could serve it well once it grows large enough for release into the wild.

"Each egg that arrives and every chick that hatches is vitally important to the survival of this species."

—Kelli Walker, Lead condor keeper

The chick, whose parents are Malibu and Maluk, chipped its way out of its shell around 8 a.m. while inside an incubator at the Jonsson Center. The March 18 hatch date is the earliest since the zoo started breeding the critically endangered birds in 2003.

"That little bird made it clear that it was ready to come out," said Kelli Walker, lead condor keeper.

Walker had been preparing to remove the egg from its incubator and return it to the parents' nest box when the chick cracked the top off its shell. Usually, in instances like this, keepers tape the shell back together and place it under the parents to hatch a second time. This time, though, the feisty hatchling wasn't having it.

"It started squawking like a little dinosaur, causing the parents to perk up," Walker said. "I had to make the switch quickly. By the time I got back down the stairs, dad Maluk was already brooding his new chick, just the way he should."

The first hatch of the season highlights the care keepers take with each egg, in their efforts to help restore a species that not long ago was on the brink of extinction.

"At this point, each egg that arrives and every chick that hatches is vitally important to the survival of this species," Walker said.

Once an egg has been laid — usually sometime in February — Walker removes it at the first opportunity, quickly weighing it and making sure the shell is in good condition before replacing it in the nest box. The parents then sit on the egg for up to two weeks before keepers remove it again to check whether it is fertile.

Fertile eggs are placed in an incubator to prevent any potential damage, and the condor parents sit on dummy eggs until hatching begins, usually in 54 to 58 days. At that time, Walker switches the real eggs back so that the chicks can hatch under their parents.