We spent Sunday morning up at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. It had been a whole, brace yourselves, TWO WEEKS since our previous visit (in the rain). One of the Cheetah Keeper’s favourite things is to go to the “Birds of the World” demonstrations. At 11.15 of a morning, a selection of birds are ‘flown’ and their individual skills demonstrated – and usually the birds are pretty willing to show off. The Cheetah Keeper’s Sister knows the answers to ALL the questions (to the extent the presenters will direct comments at her/us *cringe*) and would happily stand up and do the show herself. To the extent that she spent the visit (and the trip home from school on Monday) carrying 2 imaginary Harris Hawks on her arm. They’re called Emily and Pranav – because she likes the names. She’s learning the hand signals that the bird trainers use (just in case she doesn’t get a job as a sealion trainer straight away) and is sure that she could carry her hawks around quite easily…
In that I’ve heard this talk one or two
hundred times I spent yesterday trying to photograph it instead and therefore – bring you this selection:
This cheeky chap is Chico – he’s a Toco Toucan. His beak is made of the same stuff as our fingernails so it’s really light (good job too, otherwise he’d fall off his perch) and he has fondness for grapes. He hops around most of the time (he does a nifty side step to order) because having such a small wingspan makes flying really hard work.
He also has really good eye/beak coordination and will snatch insects or other trips out the air.
Generally he’s pretty well behaved and generally has small children pointing at him muttering about In The Night Garden or grown ups talking about Guiness adverts.
This is Hood and she’s an American Black Vulture. She’s an intelligent girl – eating the leftovers from other animals (including humans) and having such a powerful intestinal system she can eat poisonous and festering food and still be ok. She has a bald head (stops the gunk building up – ewww) and lovely white legs. Lovely white legs because her poo drips down her legs every time she ‘goes’. Lovely. But rather elegant.
On Sunday, she was rather enjoying the sunshine and getting up on the breeze and having a good soar.
Unfortunately for her handler, that meant that she wasn’t too keen on doing anything that she was asked to do!
This little cutie is Belle and she’s a Merlin. Less than 30cm high she’s new to the show this year and does the most amazing acrobatics. Her swoops and stoops had everyone ooo’ing and ahhh’ing like a rather good fireworks display. She also had a bit of a moment before showing off her skills – every good aerobatic artiste has to have a good poo before they start! Her reward at the end of her display is a nice bit of mouse.
The next star of the show is Timbo – he’s an African Grey Parrot and he flies soooooooooooo fast that a photo (I reckon) is nigh on impossible. The more you cheer for him the closer to your head he flies – so everyone ducks – a bit like a reverse Mexican wave!
The final birds out (at this show) were the Macaws. The Cheetah Keeper loves the Macaws and against a blue sky and with the wind conditions favourable (apparently) they make the most gorgeous sight. So to introduce you:
This is Neava – she’s a Hyacinth Macaw and still pretty much a ‘baby’ at 4 years old. She’s part of the breeding programme of this endangered species at ZSL London Zoo but until she’s old enough to breed (that’ll be when she’s about 7) she’s up at Whipsnade. They’ve taught her to wave with her claw (a completely natural behaviour just channelled) and she’s really rather lovely.
Macaws tend to fly in pair bonds – almost touching wing tips and this chap – Rio used to fly with Bolivia but he’s now at London Zoo. Rio has a new partner to fly with but we’ve yet to see them in action. They’re Military Macaws who are the smallest of the ‘large’ macaws.
The next pair out are Harry and Sidney – Blue and Gold Macaws (the originality of these names is amazing!) and finally, out come the Cheetah Keeper’s favourites – Inca and George who are Scarlet Macaws. He loves them and knows that they’re brothers and the best flyers. Any chance to get up close to them is seized upon at which point he watches in wide eyed wonder absolutely transfixed.
My favourite bit – watching them fly.