The “Wings of Wonder?Bird Show at the Cincinnati Zoo is one of the country? earliest bird shows. It features birds like this Harris’s Hawk.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden opened its doors in 1875, most likely a few months prior to the Buffalo Zoo, beating my first post college employer for title of the second oldest zoo in the United States. Working for the third oldest zoo in the country was still pretty cool.
The “Wings of Wonder?Bird Show, at the Cincinnati Zoo started in 1983 by Gary Denzler and was one of the country? earliest bird shows. The demonstration, which originally highlighted a few birds, is now a jam packed 20-minute-plus show that has a new bird or bird species coming out every couple of minutes. This fast-paced, humorous show follows a Ringling Bros. Circus technique with the audience also being engaged by the new act.
That? what Gary Denzler, show manager and zookeeper is going for. “You start the show off with something that is pretty darn cool,?he said, “then flow into an educational message and the ending is for your best stuff.?lt;/span>
If you read a good book or watch a great movie, he said, they follow the same format. Denzler began working at the Cincinnati Zoo fresh out of high school at age 17. He started working the orangutan show and now 48 appreciative years later he is still working with animals.
The show, which runs until Labor Day, consists of birds performing a variety of natural behaviors including flying, calling, mimicking, climbing and outsmarting their trainers. Some of the show animals include an emu, black-footed penguin, hyacinth macaw, Harris hawk, lanner falcon, Abyssinian ground hornbill and bald eagle. Show times are at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
When Denzler was 12 years old he worked with park rangers and adopted his first bird of prey: an American kestrel. After that he had a Eureka! moment, and knew he wanted to have a career that involved birds. In high school he cared for other birds of prey, which helped him land his first job at the zoo.
A black-footed penguin is part of “Wings of Wonder?Bird Show at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Although Denzler was quite comfortable working birds of prey he had no experience with parrots. “It wasn? until the zoo hired some guy from California to do bird shows,?Denzler recalled, which was when he learned parrot training and behavior. That guy was Steve Martin, now the President of Natural Encounters, who has worked at over 60 zoological facilities in 14 countries.
After Denzler observed and learned from Martin and his show, he visited the bird house at the zoo the following fall, and was given birds to start his own show, which consisted of a red-tailed hawk, baby macaws and a mimicking African grey.
His work with Martin didn? end there. “I was talking to Steve on the phone about how great it would be to have an organization where bird trainers could exchange ideas and Steve ran with it,?Denzler said. To Denzler? delight Martin later founded the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators.
Back in 1960s, when Denzler was a young boy, he observed many lure demonstrations which he wanted to emulate. “I never thought it would expand into what it has,?he says.
While he likes all birds one of his favorite behaviors in the show is luring a lanner falcon. He believes the most popular set in the show is the vulture routine, where after a Harris?hawk flies over the audience, a dozen rats safely run around stage, a comedic actor has a heart attack and is then woken up by a vulture ?a Monty Python bit.
A bald eagle is part of “Wings of Wonder?Bird Show at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Another popular show bird is the zoo? emu. The bird walks on stage and the host explains how the males do the child care including incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.
“All the women in the audience cheer,?Denzler laughs. “I? big on humor.?lt;/span>
He explains that the commercials you remember are the comical ones and he wants his educational show to be memorable. By entwining humor throughout the show, his goal is that the audience will not only remember but also actively participate in the conservation of birds and other animals.
“I?e been in the business for a really long time, I really like it, and I think about how fortunate I am.?
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