'Talons!' show promises spectators a 'unique and mystical' experience
Gandolf climbed atop a stage setting, checked the audience out with his orange eyes, spread his long wings, and swooped right over people's heads to the other side of the National Aviary's indoor theater, where the squawking Eurasian eagle owl's female counterpart was waiting.
Then, it was X's turn: She lifted off the ledge, soared over the audience, and landed on the stage.
To spectators sitting in the Helen M. Schmidt FliteZone Theater, this will look even cooler when the new “Talons!” show officially opens next week. The portion featuring the nocturnal owls happens inside a dark theater, with a background lit screen showing a forest scene. This will give visitors a “unique and mystical” experience, says Cathy Schlott, manager of animal training for the North Side aviary.
“You get a sense of an owl flying over your head at nighttime, when they would be out,” she says. “The birds really are flying all around you. It's an experience you won't get anywhere else.”
The purpose of “Talons!” — besides entertaining aviary visitors — is teaching them about birds of prey, including owls, Lanner falcons and vultures.
People often associate carnivorous birds with fear, death and aggression. Yet, birds of prey — who eat animals like rodents and other small mammals, lizards, and small birds — play an important role in the world's ecosystems and food chains, aviary officials say.
During the show, which will play twice daily, visitors will see the live bird actors, along with a backing screen showing visuals. Human performers in the show will speak to the audience about the birds they train, and compare the foreign birds — like Amut, a Lanner falcon whose species is native mostly to Africa — to local birds, like the Peregrine falcons that roost atop the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.
Other birds in “Talons!” include African hooded vultures, which Schlott calls nature's recyclers who eliminate carcasses.
“These guys are amazing,” she says. “They go and clean up after the world.”
Trainers take several months to prepare birds for a new show, and they use positive reinforcement with food to motivate the birds, Schlott says. They're not so different from us: Watch how people quickly congregate if you announce you have a cake to share.
Visitors will love learning about the exotic birds and seeing them up close, says aviary spokeswoman Robin Weber.
The show “takes you from your backyard to the world,” she says.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.