Category Archives: Disney

Disney AK Flights of Wonder audience participation

Animal Kingdom
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

Ike the Kea
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.

I think this is a Hornbill-- most likely a Trumpeter Hornbill
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!

Flights of Wonder: Pogo
Silly Pogo gets some laughs

Money Grabbing

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!

Blogger participation!

Arthur’s mom also did this — we slipped her the $1 and told her to stand up — and she got picked!

Flights of Wonder

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”.

Tuesday the GHOW incoming!
Tuesday incoming!

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:

Flights of Wonder
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:

Flights of Wonder
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.

Flights of Wonder
Waiting for the show to begin | photo by Ineke de Wolf

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IMBD at Animal Kingdom

IMBD at Animal Kingdom

On May 6th, Walt Disney World will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at Animal Kingdom. When Arthur and I have attended in the past, we enjoyed seeing the special birdcentric displays and activities to mark the day.

If the schedule followed for the last few years remains the same, you can go to see an Operation Migration ultra-light airplane at Conservation Station, learn about bird banding by “playing bird”, find out what you can do to help Purple Martins and other native birds, and much more.

Last year there were a couple of displays at Conservation Station that I thought were pretty clever; I hope they bring them back again this year.

A model of a mountain ridge was set up to show how raptors migrate over higher elevations using thermals. There was even a little fan blowing on the display to show how the mountains impact wind direction and speed.

Raptor Migration

Raptor Migration display

There was a table set up where children could dissect owl pellets. But for anyone who didn’t want to get so up close and personal with owl barf, they had a plush owl pellet, complete with models of bones inside! This seems like a fun way to explain what owl pellets are without necessarily dissecting one.

owl pellets

owl pellet

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Golden Crested Myna biopsy

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom (AK), one of the most interesting places to visit is Rafiki’s Planet Watch — first thing in the morning. Visitors can peek into a special examination room where procedures are performed on resident animals. These are often routine health exams, as in the Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture we saw last year on International Vulture Awareness Day. The exams normally take place at 10AM; there may be additional exams later in the day.

Golden Crested Myna

On February 24th Arthur and I visited AK and watched Disney veterinary staff perform a laproscopic liver biopsy on a Golden Crested Myna. Here are some photos of the procedure.

Golden Crested Myna
The patient is brought into the exam room inside a small cloth bag

The bird was put under anesthesia and the belly area was plucked of feathers. Preparing the patient for surgery took a lot longer than the procedure itself.

Golden Crested Myna
Going under

Golden Crested Myna
The patient is in place

Golden Crested Myna
The procedure is underway

Golden Crested Myna
Sewn up

The final step was to revive the patient following the surgery.

Golden Crested Myna
Coming back

Afterwards the veterinarian spoke to our small group of observers about what he had done. The myna had recently had its routine yearly exam which included taking and analyzing fluids. The results showed that the bird may have something wrong with its liver, which is why they did the biopsy.

When you get to the park in the morning, you can stop at Guest Relations to ask what the procedures for the day will be. They examine everything from birds to bats to tigers and more. A cast member told us they are more likely to work with birds on Sundays – but really you never know until you get there!

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Celebrating Vultures: IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Back in September Arthur and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD), as we had last year. This year, most of the activities were found at the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area of the park.

There were displays about vultures, including information about vulture restaurants. In addition, the long-standing mystery of the Jungle Book vulture species identification was finally solved.

IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Jungle Book Vultures

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch there is a special medical exam room which allows for public viewing. Appropriately, the veterinary procedure scheduled for that morning was a routine exam on one of the park’s Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures.

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

A small outdoor stage hosted a short program with an education Black Vulture named Beaker.

IVAD 2012

Vultures can normally be found elsewhere in the park, too. Over at the Flights of Wonder show, we watched Audrey, a young Andean Condor, fly over the audience. Here she receives a treat from a handler. Sometimes a young King Vulture named Elvis makes an appearance.

Andean Condor

And then there are always wild vultures, soaring over the park on any given warm, sunny day.

Kettle of Black Vultures

That’s how we celebrated IVAD this year, but I should confess — I celebrate vultures as often as I can. Yesterday I celebrated by handling a Turkey Vulture patient at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey for the first time!

Thank you to my fellow volunteer Robert for taking this photo!

IVAD 2012

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IMBD @ Disney

The 20th International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) was celebrated last week, on May 12th. Arthur visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, where the day was observed through various activities highlighting many different species of birds.

Celebrating International Migratory Bird Day at Animal Kingdom

Guests entering the park could be “banded” and then visit various “stations” in the park to have data taken, like leg length, “bird height,” and migration distance.

bird banding
One of the “bird banding” stations

Throughout the park, stands and kiosks were set up to share information about birds and how people can help them. Providing Purple Martin housing, the importance of shade-grown coffee, and saving shorebird habitat were among the topics shared.

Egg display

Piping Plover Poster
Saving Piping Plovers of the Great Lakes

Rafiki’s Planet Watch hosted several activities. A new, permanent exhibit on the Whooping Crane program Operation Migration was unveiled. The exhibit includes a retired ultra-light airplane used to teach Whooping Cranes to migrate. Guests were invited to dress up as a Whooping Crane adult and feed food (rubber caterpillars) to a (model of a) baby Whooping Crane.

Rafiki's Planet Watch
Operation Migration and other activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

retired Operation Migration plane
Retired Operation Migration ultra-light plane

feeding "baby"
Feeding a baby Whooping Crane

"baby whooping crane"
Baby Whooping Crane statue

An informal program with an eduction Red-tailed Hawk also took place at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Red-tailed Hawk program
Red-tailed Hawk and handler

I like how Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrates wildlife-themed commemorative holidays, like IMBD and IVAD. Other upcoming events are listed at the bottom of this post.

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Bird-a-Day weeks 6-7

With today’s entry of Tree Swallow in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, I’m up to 49 birds for 2012. Of the 14 birds added since my last update, five were yard birds. One of them was a doozy, though.

18-FEB-12 Tree Swallow Gemini Springs
17-FEB-12 Loggerhead Shrike OCCC
16-FEB-12 Black Skimmer Merritt Island NWR
15-FEB-12 Western Tanager yard
14-FEB-12 Mallard Epcot
13-FEB-12 American Goldfinch yard
12-FEB-12 Wild Turkey Lake Winona Road
11-FEB-12 Chipping Sparrow yard
10-FEB-12 Yellow-rumped Warbler yard
09-FEB-12 Wood Duck Audubon Center for BOP
08-FEB-12 Eurasian Collared-Dove Disney’s Animal Kingdom
07-FEB-12 Green-winged Teal Gemini Springs
06-FEB-12 Red-winged Blackbird yard
05-FEB-12 Red Phalarope Mayport pelagic

Yard Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds are present here in central Florida all year, but we’ve only seen them in our yard since last month. I suspect when they start breeding activities we won’t see them in the neighborhood too much. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and American Goldfinches are winter visitors here, and will all be gone by May or June, returning again in September or October. Goldfinches are pretty rare in our yard so I was happy to see one having a drink in our bird bath last Monday. But it was the Western Tanager that visited our yard for a brief moment last Wednesday that was a real shocker. We spotted a Western Tanager in our yard last October. Could this be the same bird?

Further Afield

Several visits outside of the usual haunts over the last weeks provided some great birds. It was hard to pick the bird of the day after the Mayport pelagic trip on the 5th – I’m as likely to see a Manx Shearwater in the coming months as a Red Phalarope, I think. The Wood Ducks I saw while volunteering at the ACBOP on the 9th were my first for Florida, believe it or not. A last-minute trip to Merritt Island to see an Atlas 5 launch (which ended up scrubbed) plus two days at Disney yielded birds I don’t expect to see at home or at my local patch. A Loggerhead Shrike working the parking lot at the Orange County Convention Center was a nice surprise yesterday.

Local Finds

On the 12th I drove to a dairy farm near DeLeon Springs to look for some reported Brewer’s Blackbirds. I struck out on the blackbirds but was pleased to find a nice group of Wild Turkeys, my first for Volusia for 2012. Another first for Volusia and a new BIGBY species was Green-winged Teal, a flock of which Arthur found during a morning walk at Gemini Springs on the 7th.

Looking Ahead

Now for a little prognostication. Between our yard and Gemini Springs, as of today there are about 40 species not already used in the game that I am 95% sure to see on any given day. Most of these are year-round residents, but some will start to leave around the end of March. Meanwhile a few new birds should start to show up, like Great Crested Flycatchers and Swallow-tailed Kites, both of which might arrive as early as late February. I hope I’m not jinxing myself in forecasting at least another six weeks of play in this game. And hopefully for the next update I can round up a photo or two. 🙂

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Sunbathing Nicobar Pigeons

The Nicobar Pigeon is one of the most beautiful species in the family Columbidae. They average 1.5 to 3 inches larger than the average Rock Pigeon. And they are colorful!

Nicobar Pigeon

Besides their beautiful metallic green, blue and copper feathers, Nicobar Pigeons have long hackles (long feathers) around their necks.

Nicobar Pigeons are named for the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. During a recent visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I saw a group of these gorgeous pigeons sunning themselves. They were in a large walk-through aviary in the Maharajah Jungle Trek attraction.

Nicobar Pigeons sunning

Nicobar Pigeons sunning

Throughout the park that day I noticed many new cast members being trained or following orientation from more experienced Disney employees. As I stopped to watch the sunbathing pigeons, I overheard one cast member explaining to another that the sunbathing area was a hotspot for questions from visitors who express concern for the birds. A sunbathing bird may contort into an odd-looking position, or appear to be injured, while exposing various body parts to the sun. If you want to learn about avian sunbathing, this article on is a good place to start: Birds Sunning.

Nicobar Pigeon sunning

Nicobar Pigeon sunning

Unfortunately, the Nicobar Pigeon is considered a Near Threatened species in the wild. Threats to the species include hunting, the pet trade, non-native predators, and habitat destruction.

Their beautiful plumage makes Nicobar Pigeons popular birds in zoo aviaries. Because they do breed easily in captivity, breeding programs are able to stock overseas zoos.

Nicobar Pigeons

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If you could just stop looking at birds for one minute…

Besides the preening ibis, I saw other birds at Epcot the other day.

Right after I got out of the car, a monorail sped by the parking lot. It honked at a Great Egret that was loafing on the track. The bird squawked and flew over to the other track.

Great Egret on the monorail

In Future World, Arthur and I stopped to watch a gospel choir singing holiday music. They were just barely loud enough to drown out the boisterious Common Grackles that were perched in the trees behind the choir stage. I know Common Grackles are in Florida all year, but I hadn’t seen much of them until a few weeks ago, and these were the first ones I’d seen at Epcot. (We just had a few visit our back yard feeders this week for the first time, too.)

A lot of the birds at this theme park hang out around the World Showcase Lagoon, a small body of water around which the country pavilions are located. That’s where I saw the ibis, and where I found this lone Anhinga chillaxing on a “pier.”



The White Ibis from the previous blog post was just one of a larger, loosely-formed flock. Most of the other birds were foraging or dozing.

White Ibis

By the Mexico pavilion I stopped to watch a large flock of American Crows flying between trees, perhaps preparing to roost for the night. I also exchanged looks with a Ring-billed Gull. You can see the crows as blurry dots in the background of this picture.

Ring-billed Gull

A flock of somethings flew overhead. Without my binoculars, I wasn’t positive of their identification; my camera helped me see they were Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes

Once, during a fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, we saw a Great Horned Owl leave its roost tree for the night. That was very exciting. It unfortunately remains my only owl sighting at a Disney park so far. Well, besides these.

Owl decor

I always enjoy spending a day at one of the Disney parks (I better – we have season tickets!). Birds make everything better, though, and that’s good, because I’ll never stop watching them. 🙂

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Preening White Ibis

White Ibises are extremely common here in central Florida. We see them in parking lots and in our neighborhood, foraging in suburban front yards, almost as often as we see them in more natural areas.

While I see these white birds quite often, I hadn’t really noticed one preening before I stopped to watch a particular bird in a small flock along the World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot last week. I must have seen them preening before, I just never stopped to pay attention until that moment.

Preening White Ibis

According to the Birds of North America Online, White Ibises “spend much of the day preening, […] usually at day roosts. […] Back preened directly by turning head, lower belly by placing head between legs.” BNA goes on to explain in detail how they preen other body parts (what a resource!), but I only was able to witness this bird getting busy with its backside. 🙂

Preening White Ibis

Watching birds do what they do is always interesting, and I was especially interested watching this individual taking care of feather maintenance with its unusual bill. The back didn’t seem too tough a spot to preen. I would love to see that belly move though – it sounds like quite a move!

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BPW: Red-shouldered Hawk with prey

Last Thursday Arthur and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to check out their International Vulture Awareness Day activities. We were not disappointed!

While having a look at another part of the park, we noticed a hawk swoop into a tree. Like all of my readers, I’m sure, our natural instinct is to avoid disturbing birds as much as possible while observing them. So at first I didn’t move and watched the bird for a moment through the branches. This was our view.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Now, that wasn’t a bad spot from which to admire a beautiful bird of prey, but then we realized that the hawk had perched itself directly above a large crowd of excited children. The kids were excited to meet a Disney character; we were excited to watch this gorgeous hawk in action! We walked around to have a better view and took a few more photos, and a short video.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

The prey looks to be some kind of small lizard, and the favored part seems to have been the head. Here’s a close-up of the meal before the bird really dug in. Yum!

Red-shouldered Hawk prey

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Disney, Florida | 2 Comments