Condor Chick Pecking Its Way Out of Egg--and Into History

From a Times Staff Writer

Right on schedule, the first California condor chick conceived in captivity pecked a dime-sized circle of cracks in its egg Wednesday morning and could hatch as early as Friday, the San Diego Wild Animal Park reported.

Laid on March 3, the egg is from the rarest bird in North America. Since 1975, federal and state wildlife officials and private groups have been working together to save the California condor from extinction. All 27 of the birds known to be in existence are in in zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles.

The development moved the 24-hour hatching team from its passive mode of carefully watching the egg to an active one--tapping on the egg every two hours and playing a tape of nest-like vulture hisses and grunts to encourage the chick to emerge.

'Natural Stimulus'

"What we're trying to do is provide a natural stimulus to the bird to assist it in hatching," said Tom Hanscom, spokesman for the park.

The chick has settled into a rhythm of pecking and resting, punctuated by cheeps, and appears to be strong and healthy, said Bill Toone, curator of birds at the park.

If the chick doesn't hatch by itself by early Saturday morning, however, the team of two veterinarians, an animal technician, a reproductive specialist and two keepers will move in with forceps and tweezers to help. This is the most likely scenario, Toone said.

Past experience has shown that letting the chick peck at the egg for more than 72 hours after "pipping," when the first cracks appear, could overexert and kill it.

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