‘Lord of the Wings’ flies south for winter

Melissa Russell/Correspondent

After a summer of startling and amazing zoo goers with their low-flying escapades, Lord of the Wings, the Stone Zoo’s live birds of prey exhibition, has taken to the skies.

At the zoo since May, the show wrapped up last weekend, after entertaining nearly 25,000 attendees, noted Zoo New England President and CEO John Linehan.

This was the third year the program was offered in cooperation with the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis. The 30-minute free-flight demonstration featured birds from around the world, many of which swooped in to perch on their handlers arms, nearly brushing the heads of startled audience members.

Naturalist Dana Lambert introduced a wide variety of birds to the audience, discussing their migration and foraging habits, and demonstrating natural and learned behaviors.

The popular event was offered free of charge with paid admission, down from a $2 charge in the previous two years.

“We wanted more people to participate,” Linehan said. “It fulfills so many things we want to achieve. Not only is it educational and fun, it supports conservation. It’s an entertaining way for us to get a good educational message across.”

A loud “ooooh,” heard when Gilbert, a king vulture, appeared on the back fence, turned to a louder “aaah,” when the bird revealed its impressive wingspan as it glided in over the crowd.

“Without vultures, we would have a lot of dead animals around,” Lambert explained. “He is nature’s version of a garbage disposal.”

Luna, a small white barn owl, flew in silently, appearing suddenly on Lambert’s arm. She explained how the bird, the most endangered species of owl, could hear the pitter patter of tiny mouse feet from 90 feet away.

One of the more fascinating demonstrations was that of the red-legged seriema from South America, which demonstrated its hunting technique by picking up a rubber snake and repeatedly cracking it like a whip against the ground. Othello, an African pied crow, demonstrated his penchant for recycling by flying to an audience volunteer to pick up a plastic water bottle and depositing it in a recycling bin.

“The recycling trick helps to remind people to recycle, and because birds are so smart, they are happiest when they are entertained,” Lambert said.

The grand finale belonged to Maguire, a 10-year-old bald eagle, who perched majestically as Lambert recalled how the national bird was nearly wiped out by the pesticide DDT not too many years ago. Maguire, who was most likely stolen from his nest and raised by a human, didn’t know how to hunt and could not be released into the wild, Lambert explained.

“He doesn’t know he’s an eagle,” she said. “He thinks he’s human.”

Linehan said Lord of the Wings has been so successful, it may brought back for a fourth year in 2008.

“We’ve heard from so many people who were so thrilled with the event,” he said. “Many made multiple visits to the zoo. It is definitely doing what we wanted.”

Zoo goers can expect to see more special programming in the future either produced in house or through partnerships, Linehan added.

While the program ended with a message to conserve water, energy, and recycle, Lambert said she understands that “beating people over the head with it is not the way to go.”

“Our mission is to entertain a variety of age groups, and to have something for everyone. We want to balance entertainment and a good message, and hope that people learn one new thing while they are being entertained.”

Stone Zoo, 149 Pond St., is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends and holidays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Regular admission prices are $8 for adults, $5 for children ages two to 12, and $7 for seniors. Children under age two are free.

For information, call 781-438-5100 or visit www.stonezoo.org.