Smart eggs offer hope for endangered California condors

Smart Eggs are used to gather information from places that scientists can’t go.

Though it may be “fictional,” a smart egg used at an Oregon zoo offers a new perspective and hope for critically endangered California condor populations.

The “electronic replica egg,” created by a 3D printer at Texas A&M University, is being used to “gather data from a place no scientist can go”: condor nests, the Oregon Zoo said in a press release and a video from May 23.

“This could be groundbreaking for California condor recovery efforts everywhere,” Kelli Walker, the zoo’s lead condor keeper, said in the statement.

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After a condor lays its clutch, the zoo said it sometimes takes “the first egg of a pair to an incubator” to help the egg. It is at this point where the smart egg comes in.

“The Oregon Zoo staff can temporarily place the smart egg in the nest while the real egg is kept safe in an incubator,” the zoo says in the video.

While in the nest, the egg collects pertinent data such as temperature and movement, the zoo said.

The egg also records the sounds of the “breathing and heartbeat of the condor parents as they take turns sitting on the nest,” the zoo said. The Smart Egg can be used to play recorded sounds alongside a real egg in an incubator.

“We know that unhatched chicks can hear their parents while they are still inside the egg,” Walker said. “Playing back the sounds they would hear inside the nest is one more way we can provide them with the best possible space to grow.”

‘Dummy’ eggs drop ‘valuable data’

When Walker learned that dummy egg technology was being used for other bird species at various universities, she approached professors at San Jose State University and Texas A&M to help her create a similar egg for condors. said the zoo.

“I sent them the dimensions of a real condor egg and they used a 3D printer to create two dummy eggs that were exactly the same size,” Walker said.

The zoo said it has used two of the eggs since mid-February, one in the nest box and the other in the incubator, and the condors have yet to tell the difference.

With a little extra weight from the rocks stuck inside, the eggs “roll very naturally and so far the birds seem to be completely fine with that,” Walker said.

Getting “good data” from the eggs will take a bit of time; however, “Walker and his fellow condor care staff are optimistic,” the zoo said.

“And with only about 500 California condors in the world, any progress we can make is critically important,” Walker said.

What to know about California condors

“California condors are the largest land birds in North America,” according to the National Park Service.

They were listed as endangered in 1967, the NPS said.

Their problems worsened when their population dwindled to 22 in the 1980s, by which time they were all rounded up and “placed in captive breeding programs” to avoid extinction, according to NPS.

“Since 1992, captive-bred condors have been released at five different sites in western North America,” park officials said. “Since their reintroduction, condor numbers in the wild have slowly increased thanks to wild nesting and the release of captive-bred condors.”

As of the end of 2022, there were 561 condors around the world, NPS said.