Disney’s Animal Kingdom | photo by Arthur de Wolf
Flights of Wonder is a live free-flight bird show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. I enjoy seeing this show each time I visit Animal Kingdom (AK), especially since many of the elements of the show are different each performance. The birds rotate so you never know which species or individuals will be in a particular show.
There are usually three or four parts in each show where members from the audience can participate, but recently I saw an additional opportunity which came up before the regular show even began.
Spoiler alert! This post contains spoilers for parts of the Flights of Wonder live show. I will be discussing audience volunteer participation opportunities — read no further if you don’t want to know this ahead of time!
Warm Up Recycling with Ike
I think this woman has the best job in the world
Flights of Wonder is preceded by a warm-up act which entertains the crowd waiting to enter the theater before showtime. The announcer is usually joined by a bird or two. On a recent visit I saw that there was a chance for children to participate in part of the warm-up act. A beautiful Kea named Ike (Ike Kea, groan) flew a few free-flight passes between the announcer and an assistant across the walkway. Then three children from the crowd were asked to hand Ike a plastic bottle for recycling. Ike took the bottles and flew with them to recycling bins, where he deposited the bottles into the bins.
Ike takes the bottle…
… and puts it where it belongs
Miles and the Flying Grapes
Once the show begins inside the theater, there are usually three or four chances for audience members to join in the fun. The first chance comes up early in the show, when a Trumpeter Hornbill named Miles demonstrates his amazing flying agility as he catches grapes tossed into the air by the show emcee.
Miles about to go after a grape | Photo by Flickr user Donna62 CC BY-NC-ND
Then a child volunteer from the audience is asked to come up and toss a grape for Miles. Although many parts of the show are different from performance to performance, I think each time I have seen the show, Miles does his thing. He must never tire of flying after grapes!
Math Problems with a Parrot
Another part of the show involves a parrot demonstrating amazing skills of mimicry. Often the parrot will sing, as in the case of Groucho the Yellow-naped Amazon, who knows the words to seven different songs. Sometimes the parrot will answer a series of math problems, in competition with a child participant from the audience. No matter how quickly the child answers, the parrot always replies with the correct answer first. They may also do a funny routine with a trained Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo named Pogo. Pogo is 45 years old!
Silly Pogo gets some laughs
In this audience participation opportunity, the emcee asks for an adult volunteer who has a dollar bill handy to help out. TIP: Have a dollar ready and don’t sit too far to the sides of the auditorium for your best chance to be picked for this! I have seen this part of the show performed by a parrot (see video below) and by a Pied Crow named Harley (see photo below); they have also used a Galah. The audience member holds a folded dollar bill with their arm outstretched. The bird flies to the volunteer and snatches the cash. The bird then returns a moment later to refund the money. I have done this and it was a lot of fun!
Arthur’s mom also did this — we slipped her the $1 and told her to stand up — and she got picked!
Duck Before Impact!
The last chance for audience members to participate usually involves two separate adult volunteers. The show emcee asks for volunteers with video or still cameras to come on stage and take photos of a bird as it flies across the auditorium towards them. TIP: Have your camera ready and hold it up when they are looking for volunteers. You’re more likely to be picked if they can see that you are ready to go! In this part of the show, the bird should land on a perch directly behind the volunteers, who are advised to duck down “right before impact” — because the bird “almost never misses”.
I have seen Tuesday the Great Horned Owl (as in the above photo) and Styro the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill perform this feat. I volunteered and was picked for this as well, with a Barn Owl named Alfalfa. My co-volunteer didn’t speak English very well so after we got our instructions, we sat down on the stage and he whispered to me, “We take photo of bird, right?” Yep, that’s what we do! I was giggling the whole time because I knew all of the jokes the host was going to tell before he said them. I was really excited to be there! Here we are on stage:
Giggling like a little kid!
I snapped a few photos of Alfalfa in flight but none of them came out very well. This is my best: Alfalfa incoming! I also took a photo of the audience from the stage. And here we are on stage after Alfalfa nailed his landing:
Phew, he didn’t miss his perch!
Flights of Wonder is a really nice show that we try to catch each time we visit Animal Kingdom. The human performers discuss the natural behaviors of the birds as well as wider conservation issues. I’ve seen it a bunch of times and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
Waiting for the show to begin | photo by Ineke de Wolf