By Robert Mulvihill, National Aviary ornithologist
This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, which works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.
In the National Aviary’s Rose Garden I recently watched as preparations continued for a new summer bird show, appropriately called “Taking Flight.” As I marveled at the beautiful new stage and set that have been built for the show, Cathy Schlott, manager of animal training, and Trisha O’Neill, director of education, explained what is planned. Cathy said, “Where else but South America or Costa Rica can you hope to see a colorful flock of mixed scarlet, green-winged and hyacinth macaws swooping over your head?” Subtitled “An Aerial Adventure” this open-air production is back by popular demand, with a new cast of avian characters, ranging from kookaburras to eagle owls. Best of all, it is free with paid admission.
Two of the stars of the new show are a red-tailed hawk and an augur buzzard. Despite having very different names, these two species are quite closely related and, in fact, are ecological counterparts on their respective continents: The red-tailed hawk is the familiar hawk known throughout Canada, the United States and Central America for making lazy circles in the sky as it glides on a bubble of warm air, like an invisible elevator. It does this in order to gain the height necessary for seeing distant prey or to enable it to glide effortlessly off in another direction. The augur buzzard, with a common name that some may equate with “vulture,” actually is a hawk in the same genus as the red-tail, buteo, and fills a similar niche across the African continent. In fact, with its brick red tail, it could easily be mistaken for a red-tailed hawk.
And again this summer National Aviary staff plans to “Go Fly a Kite!” — five in fact. Black kites are another Old World (Europe, Asia, and Africa) raptor species, and visitors to the National Aviary can see them, along with our martial eagle, black vulture and lanner falcons, in a free-flight rooftop show called “Soar.” The National Aviary is the only North American zoo that has black kites, and quite possibly the only zoo in the world that has a flight-trained flock of kites. So, plan to make one or more trips to the National Aviary this summer and experience the thrill of seeing soaring birds. The summer shows take flight beginning Memorial Day weekend.
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