Monday, November 17, 2014

Beauford the Great!

Beauford the Bald Eagle is amazing!  Sorry, I normally have a more cohesive introduction for you, but I really just want to tell you how awesome Beauford was in Branson, Missouri, this season.  Spoiler alert: he was very awesome!

Beauford the Great (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Allow me to backtrack. This fall Beauford and I were lucky enough to represent World Bird Sanctuary at Silver Dollar City for the Harvest Festival as a part of the NEW Wild West show.  For those readers not familiar with the Branson, Missouri, entertainment industry, Silver Dollar City is an 1880s theme park that is one of the cornerstones of the Branson area.

Beauford flew perfectly during the salute to America and our troops. This may not sound terribly exciting, but let me set the scene for you.  Beauford flew from his crate at the top of the stands down to my glove on the top of the riing.  Oh yes…I forgot to mention…he basically did this in the dark!  There was a spotlight illuminating his crate and take off perch, and a second spotlight on me, but otherwise Beauford flew pretty much in the dark indoors.

The audience didn’t know that he was in the show, which led to some fantastic crowd reactions as they felt him fly overhead and then realized what had happened once he landed onstage.  For the 2 months we were there, Beauford only had one “fumble” when he grabbed his crate carpet before taking off.  Not to worry; he just brought it with him when he landed on my glove!  Being a professional myself, I posed and pretended that the green carpet represented the environment--it was a very artistic statement that Beauford and I totally meant to make.
Beauford in his weathering area between shows (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Being a Wild West show, trick riders were a requirement, and we had some of the best!  Of course trick riders mean horses and Beauford is not used to horses.  Based on his fear of cows that we discovered last year when he flew at the Milwaukee County Zoo, it was likely that he would be fearful of horses.  Since the horses came into the ring just after Beauford’s flight, and Beauford landed on the glove while I stood on the ring, I had to make sure Buford never saw the horses in the ring.  This meant coordinating with the riders and having many contingency plans.

I had five different ways to enter and exit the building to avoid horse/eagle interaction and these came in handy once the show closed and the entertainment department began putting together a new stage for a new show.  Did I mention that in building a stage they were using cherry pickers, forklifts and scissor lifts?  All the activity required use of my secret pathways, including cutting through the bathrooms, which was pretty surreal.   No one was there that early in the morning, but it was still strange to take a male bald eagle through the ladies’ room. The things we do so that our birds will fly well.
Beauford had his very own "dressing room" (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Fantastic flying wasn’t Beauford’s only job.  He also led the parade of veterans for the opening flag ceremony every morning for the last two weeks of the festival.  Being so important he had a six-person security team to escort him, and was chauffeured to and from the ceremony.  As a show star he had deluxe accommodations: his own dressing room and private outdoor perching area for relaxing away from his adoring public.
Beauford in his weathering area for one (photo: Leah Tyndall)

After the Wild West Show closed, Beauford and I did outdoor presentations to teach people all about Bald Eagles and Beauford in particular.  These were a huge success!  Even though there were benches provided in the courtyard for spectators, there were often people standing, and even peering around trees and planters, to get a better view.

Buford and I loved every minute of our time down in Silver Dollar City.  He flew fabulously, educated thousands about our national symbol, and paid respect to our veterans.  I learned several secret pathways, how to utilize space efficiently, trained a Bald Eagle to fly spotlight to spotlight and of course did my favorite part of the job--help teach people about our amazing national symbol.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer  

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