Sunday, February 1, 2015

Beauford Rides Again!

During my time working for World Bird Sanctuary I have worked with birds in many different situations.  Whether a standard outdoor zoo show program (WBS presents educational programs with our birds at zoos around the nation), a four thousand seat indoor amphitheater where I flew a bird from spotlight to spotlight, or performing behaviors for TV news spots, I have done a variety of venues.  It’s a good thing, too, since all of these different circumstances benefited me when it came time to prepare for “The Hunt”.

Beauford waiting for his cue (photo: Leah Tyndall)

“The Hunt” is a documentary that focuses on the relationship between predator and prey, featuring footage of wild birds of prey.  Unfortunately wild birds of prey are not terribly keen on being filmed up close and personal with a filming crew.  This makes it very difficult to get those close-up and detailed shots that help the audience to truly appreciate these magnificent animals.  This is where WBS comes in.  Using a trained bird of prey allows filmmakers to get those trickier shots which not only help their production to look better, but it also helps to educate the audience.

Beauford, our Bald Eagle was the bird tapped for this exciting adventure, and I do mean exciting!  Since it was for a documentary and we wanted to blend Beauford in as seamlessly as possible, we flew him off of equipment.  That means no anklets or jesses which are the pieces of leather we usually hold onto to keep the bird safe.  The only piece of artificial equipment was a transmitter on his leg so that we could track him if needed.

This was not the first time I had flown a bird with no equipment.  We flew Diablo, our Tawny Eagle, without jesses for a few years at our Milwaukee County Zoo bird show because he kept eating the jesses.  Luckily he grew out of that habit because it was very nerve wracking to fly him with no jesses to hold onto.  We flew Diablo from a release box to a catch box.  When release, flights and catch went smoothly, there were no worries.  Occasionally, though, he got spooked or blown by wind out of the theater, so we had to cue him to our gloved arm and then put the jesses on while he was sitting on the glove—with nothing to hold onto!  During these times his feet looked extra strong and talons extra sharp.
Beauford wore special removable jesses (Photo:  Leah Tyndall)
Terrifying right?  Well remember how I said no anklets or jesses for Beauford?  This scenario was even more terrifying than Daiblo’s because Beauford’s feet are bigger and even stronger.  We made special removable anklets for Beauford that could be taken off before he went into the crate.  I spent several weeks reinforcing the appeal of the crate for Beauford.  Into the crate, out of the crate, back in the crate, sit in the crate; over and over again, always with a tasty food reward…mice! 
Going into the crate meant a special treat (Photo: Leah Tyndall)

The day of filming would begin around seven.  First Beauford would be weighed, then his anklets and jesses removed by trainer Mike Cerutti.  I then called him to a carpet square and had him walk into the crate for his mouse.  Then I prepared his food and we were off to a day of shooting…or waiting…it all depended on the light.

Unfortunately the weather was not terribly cooperative during our stretch of filming, but Beauford was terrific.  He flew to his perches, branches and gloves and even sat nicely on his “home” perch while equipment was being moved around.  Most importantly though, he went into his crate!  He was also a gentleman while his equipment was being removed and reapplied, more curious as to why his jesses kept disappearing.

I have trained birds for many situations, but none quite as challenging as this documentary.  It was an amazing experience to be a part of and one that I will never forget.  This Beauford performance, in combination with his flying at Silver Dollar City and his flights for North Carolina Central University in early November, truly made 2014 the “Autumn of Beauford”…not too bad for a second year flier.

At this point in time we are not sure when or on which channel this documentary will air (possibly as much as a year from now), but you can bet we’ll let you know when our young “star” can be seen on nationwide TV.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary behind the scenes area supervisor 

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