Category Archives: Disney

Celebrating Vultures at Animal Kingdom

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). Did you celebrate nature’s clean -up crew today? Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating vultures all month!

Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.

We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.

Vulture skulls
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!

Birdorable vulture downloads!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans

At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.

Lappet-faced Vulture sign
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life

I'm a vulture!
I’m a vulture!

At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.

The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉

Calling in the vultures
Calling in the vultures

We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).

Rüppell's Vulture
Om nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vulture

Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂

Turkey Vulture
A Turkey Vulture soars over Disney World

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Flights of Wonder

“Flights of Wonder” is a live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that uses free-flighted birds from all over the world. Arthur and I attended a performance on a recent visit to the zoo / theme park.

While waiting in line outside the outdoor theater, a cast member came out to talk with the crowd along with an avian ambassador, a Great Horned Owl. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the handler’s rather thin glove and one of the owl’s talons resting precariously on the cuff of said glove. Eek.

Great Horned Owl with small-gloved handler

The show takes place in the Asia-themed part of the park, and the stage was made to look like an Indian ruin.

Flights of Wonder stage set

The performance began with birds like macaws, hornbills, toucans and others flying across or walking on the stage to a short narration about birds of the world. The birds flew from the sides of the stage and from holes in the stage itself. This first part starred birds alone; it was a few minutes before the human host came out.

Grey Crowned Crane
A free-flighted Grey Crowned Crane wowed the crowd

Throughout the rest of the program, different bird species were introduced, and we got to see more amazing free-flying (or free-running) birds, as well as some (somewhat) natural behaviors. For example, a Seriema came out and smashed a plastic figure on the ground several times. In the wild, these birds will beat prey like lizards on rocks before consuming them.

A couple of audience participation bits were cute but an added cast member for comedic relief really fell flat with me; the beautiful birds were enough “entertainment” for me. The audience seemed to like it, so if they get the show’s message of conservation, it’s all fine with me.

Scarlet Macaws & Spectacled Owl
Free-flighted Scarlet Macaws and handler with Spectacled Owl

The final bird of the show was a Bald Eagle (who stayed on the glove). Handlers also came out with a Bateleur and a Spectacled Owl, who remained on stage for the audience to have a closer look.

Handler with Bateleur (a species of eagle)

“Flights of Wonder” is a sleek show with a great variety of beautiful birds and a clear message of conservation. If you don’t mind some cheesy entertainment with your birds, you’ll probably enjoy this show, as I did.

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The birds need us! Helping is EASY!

There are so many worthwhile projects, organizations and initiatives set up to help birds. Non-profits working with wildlife are always in need of funding. Here are two really easy – and totally free – ways that you can help a couple of important bird conservation initiatives.

OM class of 2010
Operation Migration’s class of 2010 Whooping Cranes fly over Winnebago County, Illinois

Help Operation Migration: vote daily

You can help Operation Migration receive a $25,000 grant from Pepsi by voting for OM every day until the end of the year. The grant will be awarded to the two top projects; as of this writing OM was in 10th place (up from 72nd at the start of voting). Voting is easy! Visit the Operation Migration project page, and click on Vote for this idea. The first time you do this, you’ll have to register, which takes about 30 seconds. Then, return to the Operation Migration project page every day until December 31st to place your daily vote. You’ll have to enter your email address and password in each day, but it only takes a few seconds and your vote could be the one that pushes OM over the top! I have the page in my startup Firefox folder so I don’t forget to vote every day.

Help Spoon-billed Sandpipers: vote weeky

You can help save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper by voting in the Saving Spoony’s Chinese Wetlands campaign. BirdLife International is working to save the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which may be down to just 400 birds. The project is set to receive $25,000 from Disney’s Friends for Change initiative, which is fantastic. But the project has the chance to receive up to $100,000 from the Disney initiative, if they get the votes. Voting is easy! Visit the Spoony Needs Your Vote page on the BirdLife International blog to find your country’s link to the Disney voting page. You will have to create a Disney account if you don’t have one already (which was kind of annoying, I admit, but only took about 90 seconds to complete. You’ve got the time, do it!), and log in. Then place your vote for BirdLife International. It’s that easy! You can vote every week; voting started on November 29th but it’s not clear when the poll closes. Better just go back and vote each week as long as you can! I know I will.

Calling Spoon-billed Sandpiper (uploaded to YouTube by user phonescoper)

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2 lifers at Disney Wilderness

On June 16th we visited the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida.

First we did some leisurely birding from the car on the drive in to the parking area.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys hanging out by the side of the road

Despite this lousy photo, we did have a pretty good look at this lifer Swallow-tailed Kite as we approached the parking area.

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Eastern Bluebird
An Eastern Bluebird greeted us at the parking area

The Preserve, established in 1992, spans 12,000 acres and includes several different habitats including swamp, wetlands, scrubland and flatwoods. Parts of the preserve are home to the endemic Florida Scrub Jay, but this area of the park is normally off-limits to visitors.

Again it was hot so we limited ourselves to a short walk on the John C. Sawhill Interpretive Trail.

The first sign of life on the trail

Disney Wilderness Preserve

Our second lifer of the day a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which we saw along the trail shown above.

Disney Wilderness Preserve

When we left the trail we signed out of the preserve’s trail register and noticed the only other recent visitor had been on the trails the day before, for just 15 minutes. We lasted about an hour and a half in the heat.

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BPW: Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

This Loggerhead Shrike posed for us during our visit to the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida, earlier this month.

Loggerhead Shrike

Shrikes are sometimes called “butcher birds” because of the way they handle their prey. Yes, these small birds are actually predators but they lack strong talons to rip apart prey. Instead they use their hooked beaks to rip flesh off of prey which they first impale onto thorns or barbed wire.

Loggerhead Shrike

We saw shrikes twice during our Florida road trip and both times we scanned nearby fences and trees for possible impaled prey, but we didn’t see any. That’s probably for the best – my old Golden Field Guide has an illustration of a Northern Shrike perched next to an impaled mouse and that’s almost too much for me to take.

Loggerhead Shrike

For more photos of birds from all around the world, check out the other submissions for this week’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Disney, Florida | 9 Comments