Aviary's birds prep for national TV spot

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Fleury is ready for his close-up.

On Tuesday, the National Aviary's 2-year-old snowy owl will appear on NBC's "Today" show in New York City as part of a segment with the National Wildlife Federation about winter animals.

Aviary's Snow Owl to make appearance on 'Today Show'

Fleury, a Snow Owl at the National Aviary, will make an appearance on the 'Today Show' next week. (Video by Nate Guidry; 12/6/2012)

And, as anyone about to make a television appearance would do, Fleury's been prepping.

Cathy Schlott, manager of animal training at the National Aviary on the North Side, has been mimicking the feel of a television studio by walking with Fleury into areas with tight spaces, introducing him to new people and taking him for rides in a minivan. She offers him positive reinforcement in the form of mice and chick parts when he remains calm and composed.

"It's a lot about getting them comfortable in odd situations," said Ms. Schlott, who has worked with the National Aviary for nearly a decade and will be the main handler for Fleury during his appearance.

Animal interaction segments have long been a feature of television shows, especially late night and morning talk shows, and recently the National Aviary has been called upon to provide bird guests for several national shows. In just the past year, the aviary has sent a black vulture to the "Late Show with David Letterman," a green aracari to "Good Morning America" and a penguin to Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show.

The birds are "ambassadors" for the aviary, Ms. Schlott said.

"We want people to know about the National Aviary and to get them to come here, and go on our website and learn about nature and the environment," she said.

This is not the first time on the national small screen for Fleury, who is named for Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury made his national debut on "Today" last year, and Ms. Schlott said he was calm and collected on camera.

On Monday, Ms. Schlott and another trainer will secure Fleury and Simon, a 9-year-old African penguin who will also appear on the show, in their kennels and drive them in a minivan to New York City.

They will stay at the Affinia 50 Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, a hotel used by Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, when he makes his frequent animal appearances on television talk shows.

The night before the show, the two humans and two birds will stay in a hotel room that provides a refrigerator and kitchen so Ms. Schlott can prepare meat for the birds. Early Tuesday, Ms. Schlott and the other trainer will take the birds to the TV studio, where they will keep them calm before they make their appearances.

Ms. Schlott can't say for sure whether Fleury likes the attention, the bright lights, the cheering crowds or the fleeting fame. But she knows this:

"Fleury likes doing things that earn him treats. It's all about the reward for him."

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://press.post-gazette.com/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published December 6, 2012 9:00 PM


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