By Teresa Pitman
We were barely settled in our seats, the host of the show just getting started, when a tour guide wandered in with his little flag on a stick waving over his head. I confess that I groaned just a little. I was feeling a little fed up with tours after a whole passel of teenagers raced in front of me to get in line for the bus that morning.
But I quickly realized that the “tour guide” was just part of the show – the hilarious part. He professed to be afraid of birds, and his lack of knowledge about our feathered friends meant he could ask all the questions we were wondering about but felt too embarrassed to share.
The show? Flights of Wonder, shown several times a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in a large shaded theater. You might have zipped right past it on your way to Expedition Everest – and hey, I understand the lure of the Yeti – but you might have seen a cast member or two standing outside the entrance with an owl or hawk perched on one person’s wrist or flying between them. Go ahead – stop for a few minutes and watch this preview, then head on in, find a seat on the benches, and prepare to enjoy yourself.
The theater is under a canvas roof so it is shaded on sunny days and there are large fans to help cool things off in hot weather. The seats are all low benches and the theater is sloped upwards from front to back so everyone has a good view of the stage.
Each show is a little different, as the show’s host introduces a variety of birds who perform what look like tricks, but are really just natural behaviors done in response to cues from the host (and rewarded with treats). One bright little bird, for example, stole the “tour guide’s” flag and then returned for the stick. (There were some cheers when that happened, mostly from me – I am not fond of those flags!) A small parrot sang an incredibly clear and pitch-perfect version of “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” and got a round of applause from the crowd.
These birds (while highly entertaining) are just the warm-up. The real audience-pleasers are the larger birds of prey who fly from the stage to another handler at the back of the audience, sometimes just inches over the heads of the guests. Just feeling the wind in your hair as the birds’ wings pass over you is a thrill. Another bird flew into the audience to take a dollar bill from a guest’s outstretched hand, and later returned it to the same person. Pretty impressive given the size of the crowd.
As the birds impressed us with their abilities, the show’s host explained why birds are important and what we can do to protect them. Vultures, for example, may not look all that cute and adorable but they play a vital role in getting rid of the carcasses of animals that have died. With each new bird that appeared on stage, our bird-fearing tour guide got a little braver and near the end was actually feeding a bird or two out of his hand.
One part I especially enjoyed was when three women were invited up onto the stage to take a photo of a bird who would be released from the back of the theater to fly towards them. The host played up what a great opportunity this would be to get a close-up of a bird in flight. Of course, what these unsuspecting guests didn’t realize was that the bird would fly right at them – as though he was going to land on their heads – and only swoop up onto the ledge behind them at the last moment. The expressions on their faces were priceless.
At the end of the show – with the tour guide now transformed into a bird-lover – the host and other handler wait with some of the birds who have entertained us to answer any questions and pose for photos. They were very knowledgeable and provided a great opportunity to see some of the birds up close – especially for the little kids.
I’ve seen other bird shows, but I have to say Flights of Wonder has all of them beat. The tour guide makes it funny and entertaining, and having these magnificent birds soaring overhead is definitely awe-inspiring. For a change of pace in your busy park day, take half an hour and get to know some of the beautiful birds that share our planet.