How a Excessive-Tech Egg Might Assist the Endangered California Condor
For 2 months this spring, a pair of California condor dad and mom rigorously tended to a single, huge egg. They took turns sitting on the egg to maintain it heat, and so they routinely rotated the egg, a habits believed to advertise proper chick development.
What the birds, a part of a breeding population on the Oregon Zoo, didn’t seem to note was that the egg was a high-tech fraud. The plastic shell, made with a 3-D printer, was filled with sensors designed to surreptitiously monitor situations contained in the condors’ nest.
For weeks, the dummy egg tracked the nest temperature, logged the birds’ egg-turning behaviors and recorded the ambient sound. The zoo hopes this knowledge will enable it to higher replicate pure situations within the synthetic incubators which can be key to its condor breeding efforts.
California condors, which might have wingspans of practically 10 ft, are critically endangered. So yearly, when the birds lay their eggs, the zoo whisks them out of the nest and into the protection of the incubators. This technique has a number of benefits, prompting some pairs to put a second egg, enabling the zoo to observe embryo growth and defending the delicate embryos from condor rowdiness.
“Throughout breeding season, tensions are likely to run excessive,” mentioned Kelli Walker, the zoo’s senior condor keeper. “And infrequently pairs will get right into a combat within the nest room and accidentally injure the egg.” (The chicks are returned to the nest after they start hatching.)
The extra carefully the zoo can replicate pure situations within the incubators, the extra profitable it is going to be. So Ms. Walker enlisted Scott Shaffer, an animal ecologist and fowl researcher at San Jose State College, and Constance Woodman, a fowl scientist and professional on conservation know-how at Texas A&M College, who collectively have made data-logging good eggs for a lot of totally different fowl species.
Right here’s how they introduced the condor eggs into being:
Design the eggs
Dr. Woodman created a digital mannequin of the imitation condor egg. The shell needed to be skinny sufficient for the inner sensors to detect temperature adjustments however sturdy sufficient to resist potential avian abuse. (A macaw as soon as threw one in every of Dr. Woodman’s eggs out of its nest, two tales off the bottom.) To make sure the egg wouldn’t pop open, she designed threaded shell halves that might screw collectively tightly. “It would keep closed until you’ve obtained thumbs,” she mentioned. “Birds should not have thumbs, so we’re in good condition.”
Print the shells
Dr. Woodman used a 3-D printer loaded with a plastic chosen particularly to be secure for birds, which could spend months sitting on the eggs. “I actually, actually don’t need to imply properly and poison a fowl,” she mentioned. Printing every shell took 13 hours.
To make sure that the egg was not susceptible to spinning or wobbling, Dr. Woodman gave it to Loretta, her litter-box-trained “home turkey,” she mentioned. “If Loretta doesn’t prefer it, she gained’t sit on it.”
Dye the eggs
The colour of fowl eggs varies by species, and Dr. Woodman and Dr. Shaffer all the time attempt to replicate it as carefully as doable. To match the refined, blue-green tint of condor eggs, Dr. Woodman dipped the shells right into a pot of a unhazardous dye meant for kids’s clothes.
Add the electronics
Small knowledge loggers tucked contained in the shells can monitor the temperature and motion of the eggs. An audio recorder captures the sounds within the nest, which the zoo will play again to the eggs within the incubator. “Creating embryos can hear issues via their shells,” Ms. Walker mentioned. And he or she used electrical tape to cowl the lights on the electronics, “in any other case it could have appeared like a flashing Christmas egg.”
Weigh them down
Some birds will reject eggs which can be abnormally gentle. So Ms. Walker used a sizzling glue gun to connect rocks to the within of the egg, bringing its weight to greater than half a pound.
Make the swap
The primary condor dad and mom to obtain a sensible egg this yr had been a feminine identified solely as quantity 762 and her mate, Alishaw. “He’s not what you’d name a historically implausible dad,” Ms. Walker mentioned. “He’ll incubate so long as he has to, however he’s not thrilled about it.” (762’s devotion to him, nonetheless, stays undimmed. “She’s form of a ride-or-die with Alishaw,” Ms. Walker mentioned.)
When each birds left the nest, zoo workers moved their actual egg to an incubator and changed it with the faux one. The condors didn’t appear to note. (Their chick, which has since hatched, is again with its dad and mom and doing properly, Ms. Walker mentioned.)
Analyze the info
When the breeding season is over, Dr. Shaffer and Ms. Walker will analyze the info. The findings will inform future incubator settings and, the workforce hopes, assist carry extra California condor chicks safely into the world. “It’s only a actually cool use of know-how that may solely get higher,” Dr. Shaffer mentioned.
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