Friday, January 13, 2012

The Rookie Files: Norbert

Look--Up in the sky!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Norbert our eight year old Bald Eagle.
 Norbert wowing the crowds at Silver Dollar City 
Norbert officially graduated from flight school this year at Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.   There he flew in a 4,000 seat amphitheater to the delight of hundreds of people.  Norbert is just one of our team of flying Bald Eagles.  Lewis is probably the most famous, being an honorary St. Louis baseball Cardinal and flying at Busch Stadium.  Clark, another team eagle, is a definite favorite of mine since I worked with him our first year in Branson, but Norbert quickly grew on me.

Norbert was a rescue bird.  He was found on a golf course in South Dakota chasing golf balls and begging people for food.  Because of this behavior he was deemed an imprint.  This means that a human fed Norbert while he was still very young and he now sees people as a source of food (and sometimes imprints see humans as mates, which is awkward).   As you can imagine people were very frightened of the large bird that kept wandering up to them.  Norbert was very lucky that an organization in SD similar to ours was able to rescue him before someone reacted badly out of fear and harmed him.  Wild animals need their natural fear of humans to keep them safe; without it they intrude into our space and that is when dangerous interactions occur--both for the animals as well as people.
Norbert at age 4--still sporting some of his juvenile plumage 
Norbert arrived at WBS in his first year juvenile plumage.  Bald eagles don’t get their famous white head and white tail until they are about four or five years old.  Norbert is actually a late bloomer; he didn’t start molting into his adult feathers until he was about six years old.  Rather than having a total white head, Norbert still has dark feathers that trail off behind each eye, so he is easy to differentiate from the rest of the eagles because of these unique “racing stripes” (or “burglar mask” depending on his mood).
 Norbert is easily distinguished from our other Eagles because of his "mask"
Norbert flying at Silver Dollar City in Branson was an exciting sight to behold, since we rarely have a chance to fly Bald Eagles outside of sporting events.  This made him quite the celebrity down in Branson.  And boy--was he treated like one!  Norbert had his own entourage, security detail, and a personal chauffer.  He co-starred in Silver Dollar City’s opening ceremony and flag-raising every morning.  His personal driver transported him, and then his entourage (other actors involved in the ceremony) entertained him (stared at him, glassy-eyed, mouth opened) until it was time to work.  The glassy-eyed thing was more entertaining for me than Norbert.

Like all stars Norbert had a large number of groupies.  I was his chief security officer in charge of making sure no one tried to touch him.  Birds of prey do not like to be touched.  Unlike dogs and cats, birds of prey do not really understand affection.  Generally the only time another animal is going to be touching them is when it is trying to hurt them.  It is also better for a bird’s feathers not to be touched; the oils we have on our hands can damage the oils and waterproofing on a bird’s feathers.
 Norbert about to make a perfect landing
Norbert even appeared on TV to advertise for his amazing flights (he seemed to enjoy watching the teleprompter).  And what amazing flights they were!  Norbert flew over most of the audience and three of his flights were steep verticals.  This meant he had to work extra hard to make those perches, but when he did (which was all the time) it was gorgeous.

Unfortunately Norbert can never be released into the wild.  Due to one person’s actions he will now forever associate people with food instead of danger.  We are happy to give him a home at World Bird Sanctuary where he can help to educate and entertain people.  He helped to personalize our national symbol and the struggle his species underwent to come back from the brink of extinction, due to pesticides and habitat loss.

As Norbert flew his amazing flights across the theater at Silver Dollar City he symbolized the efforts of individuals and conservation organizations to protect and teach about the Bald Eagle.  And yes, this may sound a little dramatic, but what sight is more dramatic than a  Bald Eagle in flight?

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, Naturalist/Trainer 

1 comment:

Anne Higgins said...

Thanks for this entry. He is truly handsome!
I am enjoying following this blog, backyard birder that I am.