Zookeepers help endangered condor chick break free from shell

Apr 20, 2013

This California condor chick needed a bit of help coming out of its shell.

The endangered bird was born on April 11 at the Oregon Zoo through a procedure called an “assist hatch.” Handlers had to crack open the shell to free the bird, who had become stuck inside, unable to move.

“It’s kind of the condor equivalent of an emergency C-section,” said Kelli Walker, the zoo’s lead condor keeper.

After mother Malibu laid the egg on Feb. 14, zookeepers took it from the nest for close monitoring, leaving behind a dummy egg for the parents to sit on.

Handlers first realized the chick was turned 180 degrees around from the normal hatching position on April 7 while examining the egg through “candling”—the method of shining a bright light behind the egg to see the outline of the chick.

Credit Oregon Zoo

When they saw two days later that the chick had not moved, they knew the bird couldn’t hatch alone. So they carefully removed a part of the shell.

Once there was an opening, the chick popped up its head.

After a night of observation, the chick was placed in a dummy shell and placed back in her parents’ nest, much to her protest.

“The chick was extremely mad and vocal, which is good,” said Walker. "I think Maluk (the father) must have heard its vocalizing, because he came into the nest area right away and started brooding. The chick seems to be doing well and is active.”

Condors are the largest birds in North America with wingspans that stretch up to 10 feet.

Because there were only 22 California condors left in existence by 1982, all condors now live in captivity as part of a recovery effort.