By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly changed the daily life of every Pittsburgher, with social distancing guidelines forcing people to stay home and away from others. But behind the walls of the National Aviary life continues unchanged, except for one addition.
The Aviary’s Andean Condors, Lianni and Lurch, are now parents-to-be, with Lianni laying an egg in early April. The egg is expected to hatch in early June, according to Dr. Pilar Fish, the Aviary’s director of veterinary medicine.
“The average incubation period is 58 days, but each chick develops at its own individual rate and hatching time can vary by several days,” said Fish.
Native to the Andes Mountain range, the Andean Condor is one of the largest living bird species, with a wingspan greater than 10 feet. A national symbol of six South American countries, it is a major figure in Andean folklore and mythology.
While not as threatened as its close relative, the critically endangered California condor, the Andean condor is very vulnerable to human activity.
Hunters using lead ammunition has caused secondary poisoning of condors, who subsist largely on carrion. Farmers have also killed condors perceived to be threatening livestock. Andean condors have evolved to lay very few eggs, as they have very low adult mortality with no natural predators. As a result, it has become extremely rare in the northernmost portion of its natural habitat.
Similar to humans, however, condors mate for life, and both parents take part in egg care.
“Both the male and female Andean condors share the responsibility of sitting on the egg. Parents actually develop an abdominal fat pad called a brood patch which keeps the egg at the perfect body temperature,” said Fish.
Both parents also participate in raising the fledgling, although they will have help from the Aviary’s experienced caretakers.
“The Andean condors are comfortable and familiar with their National Aviary caregivers, allowing us to monitor the egg, and eventually the chick,” said Fish. “The National Aviary’s aviculturists provide a nutritious diet and daily care to support the parents, as well as to assess the chick’s development.”
This egg is a milestone achievement for Lianni, as she was on the brink of death just eight years ago.
“In 2012, Lianni fell ill and extreme measures were needed to keep her alive. She needed a blood transfusion, a procedure that had never before been done on a condor,” the Aviary said in a press release. “A team mobilized to safely collect small samples of blood from 15 birds of prey, and a first-of-its-kind blood bank was established.”
As a result of these unorthodox procedures, Lianni pulled through her illness and now lives a normal, healthy life. On April 23, she celebrated her 36th birthday by incubating her new egg.
While the public, unfortunately, will not be able to gather in the Aviary to see the condor egg, those passing by outside can view as they please.
“In fact, Condor Court is one habitat that the community can still safely see while we are closed since it’s visible from Arch Street. Passersby can see Lianni incubating her egg and enjoying other natural behaviors like sunning and bathing,” said Fish.
Updates about the condor parents and their egg will also be regularly posted through the Aviary’s online channels. Those who want to support the Aviary can also donate through those avenues, with UPMC Health Plan and the Weber Group offering to match donations to emergency relief programs.
“An Andean condor egg is a beacon of hope during this pandemic and the National Aviary will continue to share the good news on our social media pages and on our website,” said Fish. “We hope everyone is inspired by Lianni’s story to follow the condors’ journey and to help support their care.”
For information on the condors, as well as how to donate, visit aviary.org.