May 25

Birdland

There’s a new bird in town… well, actually, 34 of them, and they are ready for their close-up.

The Holland Meadowlark Theater scheduled to open at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium on Father’s Day weekend, and its arrival heralds a whole new era in how zoo visitors can interact with and learn about the zoo’s bird species.

“We've done shows with birds on a smaller scale in the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavillion," says Mandi Krebs, interactive animal programs manager at the zoo, "but this is an exciting new way to showcase the beautiful things that birds do in an outdoor setting."

Krebs and her team have been working on training the new birds, which include three different species of macaw, a southern ground hornbill, a Eurasian eagle-owl (the largest species of owl in the world), Harris hawks, a very smart raven, African crowned cranes (considered "living fossils" because they have been around since the Eocene Epoch and survived the ice age), a Lady Ross’s turaco, guinea fowl and ten little Quaker parrots.



As you might expect, each species has a distinct stage presence. “We've had really great training sessions with the Harris hawks, they're moving along the quickest,” says Krebs. “The Quaker parrots are really cute, and the guinea fowl are funny to watch -- we’re training them to run out into the audience, and then, when we shake a rattle, they’ll all run back into their enclosure. They’re definitely going to provide some comic relief.”

Krebs says she hopes the shows, which will occur twice daily, will highlight that every species matters. “The red-fronted macaw is an endangered species,” she says (there are fewer than 1000 left in the wild), "But we want to show what people can do on a daily basis to make an impact and help wildlife in general.”

The stage backdrop will be two levels, to add another dimension to the animal interaction, and will feature flowering plants and vines to give it a natural feel.Krebs says it will seat 400 people, but it is designed to feel more intimate. “We often go big at the zoo, but in this project we wanted it to feel smaller. We want people to feel that emotional connection to the birds and like they’re part of the experience.”