The results are in: Luhui (pronounced “loo-HOO-ee”), our California condor chick on Condor Cam at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is a male!
He is now over 98 days old, and is starting to get his big bird feathers. As many of our regular Condor Cam viewers have noticed, his flight feathers are growing in. Some of the first feathers that start to grow are the wing feathers. It is easy to see the feathers growing through the chick’s down—the down feathers are gray, but the new flight feathers are black. The long feathers that grow from the tip of the wing are called “primary feathers” and the feathers from the wrist to the armpit are “secondary feathers.” Primary and secondary feathers are the giant feathers that make the California condor’s wing so large and impressive. An adult can have a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet! We are estimating our chick’s wingspan to be around five feet right now—between the size of a red-tailed hawk and a bald eagle. His tail feathers are also starting to grow. They’re a little harder to see on camera, but you should be able to spot them soon.
After the wing and tail feathers fill in, the feathers on Luhui’s back will start to grow, as well as the small feathers on the top of the wing, called coverts. Even though many new, black feathers will be covering parts of his body, Luhui will still have lots of gray down showing, making it easy to differentiate him from his parents. Eventually, his light-colored skin will turn dark gray or black and be covered with fine, fuzzy feathers, but this won’t happen until well after he leaves the nest. His skin will stay dark until he reaches maturity at age six and it turns pink-orange, just like his parents, Siwon and Sola.
Luhui had his second health exam on July 30, during which our veterinary staff members were able to administer his second—and final—West Nile virus inoculation. A blood sample was obtained, and he weighed in at 11.5 pounds (5.2 kilograms)—more than half of his projected adult weight. Even though our little boy is getting big, he still has room to grow!
With his new, long wing feathers, Luhui will be exercising his wings more often, with some strong flapping. You will notice that, as his wings gain more surface area, he will be able to lift his body off the nest floor. He won’t be able to fly, but he’ll be a step closer. Plus, his legs will be getting stronger and more coordinated, allowing him to jump higher. When he is between 90 and 110 days old (sometime between August 14 and September 3), we expect him to be able to jump up onto the entry barrier of the nest box. It could be earlier or later, as each chick develops at a different rate. The barrier is 18 inches tall, so if he can jump up onto it, it’s not a long fall if he slips.
Usually, the chicks are strong enough to jump down without slipping. Hopping up and down from the nest barrier exercises Luhui’s wings, and perching on it helps improve his balance. He may even sleep on top of the barrier! From the barrier, Luhui will be able to hop back into his nest, if he wants to, or he can hop into the adjoining roost area—most of which can be viewed on Condor Cam. While out in the roost, he can rest or sleep in the shade, perch with his parents (if they are not perched out in the flight pen), or step out to the roost ledge to soak up the sun’s rays for the first time. The ledge is about eight feet from the ground—high enough to make the parents feel comfortable and secure in their nest, but not as high as a condor nest in the wild. Luhui may get near the edge, but he will be cautious in doing so, so he doesn’t teeter off. It is natural for condor chicks to explore and exercise on the edge of their nest cavities, and rarely do they fall out.
Luhui still has plenty of time before he will fledge, or leave the nest, so please continue to enjoy your time with him. We appreciate all of your comments and support!
Ron Webb is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous blog, Luhui’s First Health Exam.