Friday, August 21, 2015

A Busman's Holiday

In late June I traveled to the Milwaukee County Zoo for a quick trip to see the World Bird Sanctuary’s Bird Show and to see Zeus, our Golden Eagle, fly for the first time. 

This was the first time I have been back to the Milwaukee County Zoo in over 9 years.  My first 5 years with World Bird Sanctuary were spent there because the zoo sponsored WBS to present a summer and winter show back then, so in some way it was like going home after being away for a long time. 

I went to the zoo with a few friends and volunteers for a nice full day’s trip.  We arrived nice and early.  We walked around for a little while before the first show.  Right before the show we stopped by the WBS weathering area (a falconer’s term for exposing captive birds of prey to weather) to see some of the stars before the show.  At that time we learned Zeus was not yet flying in front of big groups, so we would have to wait until the end of the day to see him.

 The show started and birds started flying--Harris Hawk, Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, a chicken, Augur Buzzard, a skipping Black Vulture, Parrots, a snake slamming Red-legged Seriema and 3 flying eagles make for more pictures than you know what to do with.  My personal favorites were the skipping Black Vulture, snake slamming Seriema, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Bald Eagle and Zeus. 
There's just something about a skipping Black Vulture that brings a smile to your face (photo: Cathy Spahn)

All of the birds are fun to see fly, but when a Black Vulture starts to skip across the stage you cannot help but smile. 
The snake slamming Seriema was a crowd favorite (photo: Cathy Spahn)
Then, seeing Evita the Red-legged Seriema run out, pick up her fake snake, and start slamming away was just incredible.  The real “ooh” moment was when Duncan the Wedge-tailed Eagle was seemingly launched over the perimeter fence, and you see this bird with a 7- 8 ft wingspan coming right at you.  The last bird of the show was Clark the Bald Eagle flying strong--glove to glove--over the audience!
Of course, Clark our free flying Bald Eagle, is always a favorite (photo: Cathy Spahn)
After the last show we returned to see Zeus fly.  We (all 3 of us) were the largest audience Zeus, the Golden Eagle, had ever seen while flying to that point in his training.  Zeus is a good-sized eagle and to see him come over the fence, open his wings and fly to his stump, back and forth, and then offstage, was fantastic.  It is not a difficult flight pattern, but with young birds you sometimes start with simple and always positive.  For me it was so exciting to see this bird fly, since a few summers ago I worked very hard on training him.
Zeus the young Golden Eagle flew for his first audience--the three of us  (photo: Cathy Spahn)
After the shows I also stopped behind the scenes to visit Trinidad, the Military Macaw.  He was not in the shows due to the construction in the area, which he does not like.  Trinidad’s facial skin immediately turned bright red upon seeing me and he started his excited dance.  I love that he goes to zoo shows to fly, but he is the one bird I miss when he is gone.  Trinidad was the first parrot I ever flew with WBS and we have always had a special relationship.

The Milwaukee County Zoo Bird Show runs only through Labor Day and is free with admission to the zoo, but you'll have to hurry--only 18 days left to see these amazing flying raptors.  It is a great weekend trip from the St. Louis area.  

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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