Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Weathering The Weather

Rain, rain go away.  We still need to do shows today--if you don’t the people won’t stay!
A summer downpour does not make for good audience numbers
Rain, rain go away! I hate the weather…ok allow me to rephrase. I hate the weather during show season. Nothing can throw off the amazing groove you have going during shows faster than a sudden downpour or unexpected heat wave.

When all of your programs take place outdoors, good weather is very key.  The ability to read the weather is even more important.  After five years of doing zoo show programs, the weather still defies me. 

Even with the aid of a Doppler radar, I still get taken by surprise.  Very recently we looked at the radar before doing a practice show up at the Milwaukee County Zoo, where WBS presents educational birds shows for the summer, and it looked clear.  About halfway through the show it started to pour on us and we had to scramble to get everyone inside and protect the sound equipment.  Turns out a storm literally appeared out of nowhere on the radar!

There have been several occasions where we started a show, but had to cancel it because of inclement weather.  Not only to protect our guests and birds, but as you can imagine, expensive sound equipment does not react well to pouring rain.  Despite the fact that birds have excellent waterproofing on their feathers, even they cannot fly once they have been soaked to the skin by a rapid downpour.
A thoroughly soaked Peabody
 Unfortunately, once it does start pouring, many people begin fleeing for the exits (not that I can blame them--it’s pouring rain!), and sometimes there is still a bird on the stage, so we have to quickly get control of it again.

Surely, you might think, things must be less difficult when the rain starts before the shows, but no.  When the rain happens before shows start for the day or between shows we make sure that the birds are inside (or under cover) so that they are dry enough to fly.  Sometimes it rains right up until and through fifteen minutes before shows--in which case we unfortunately have to cancel.  Other times it stops raining sixteen minutes before shows start, which means we have to scramble to get all of the birds outside that are going to be in the show. Any way you slice it, rain, for us, is a problem. Maybe I should stop bringing Otis, our White-bellied Stork, to the shows I supervise (in Africa, where White-bellied Storks are from, natives look forward to the return of flocks of this stork because their return means the rainy season is about to start).
Otis, Bringer Of Rain
The lack of rain however is not necessarily any better, since this usually occurs in the dead of summer. Which of course equals hotter temperatures, and since our stages are made of concrete, hot stages as well.  If the heat index exceeds 105, we cannot do shows for the safety of our guests and birds.  Sometimes we have to feel the surface temperature of the stage for the birds that walk on it, since bird feet are not built for blistering concrete.  There have been times that we have actually fried an egg on the stage.  They get that hot!

Weather is an unfortunate factor when performing outdoors.  Over time you learn to read it a little and get better and better at adjusting for it.  Overall though, no matter how very vexing it is (and it is very vexing), it is important to work around the weather so that we can showcase our birds and their behaviors as often as possible.  After all, the show must go on!

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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