Have you ever felt the breeze of a black vulture flying just a few feet over your head? Or heard an Australian laughing kookaburra laugh?
At the Birdman: World Class Bird Show at the N.C. State Fair, you can!
The Birdman, Joe Krathwohl, has a diverse pack of performing birds with him at his first-ever appearance at the State Fair. The Birdman performs three shows a day at a set located between gates six and seven. Based in Las Vegas, he’s provided live bird entertainment for 41 years.
With him in Raleigh this week, the Birdman has six performing birds, including a Bateleur eagle and a giant Andean Condor. The Bateleur eagle is one of only 20 or so in the United States. There are only a few thousand left in their native range in East Africa. Krathwohl doesn’t believe there is another touring show featuring Andean condors.
After 41 years in front of crowds, Krathwohl still enjoys educating people about birds.
With live birds as the stars of the show, no two performances are the exact same. In a performance over the weekend, wild birds in the trees surrounding the performance area caught the attention of the kookaburra, who has been a little distracted ever since.
“There’s a lot of moving parts in my show and a wide variety of birds,” the Birdman said. “They eat different things. They train different ways. I coordinate it so that people can see all these different things and birds from different parts of the world in 30 minutes. Through training, visitors get to see the best of the birds. The ultimate goal is that no matter who they are or what they think about birds when they arrive, we want them to leave loving birds and help protect them in the wild.”
The birds featured in the show came to him in different ways. A yellow-naped Amazon parrot arrived when its carers needed to move and couldn’t keep it. The Bateleur eagle, named Sheeba, was a gift from two of Krathwohl’s friends in Las Vegas – the famous Siegfried and Roy. For all their skills with big cats, the duo realized it didn’t know how to properly care for birds and turned to an expert.
Sheeba is 38 years old and has performed with The Birdman in every state but Vermont.
The Birdman’s show starts with a warning: The birds featured are all capable of flight (their wings aren’t clipped) and they can be unpredictable. In the event a bird decides to fly away, the show will be cut short while Krathwohl works to convince the bird to come home.
“This is the first time I’ve performed under a tree canopy,” the Birdman said. “When the audience comes in, this area makes it feel like you’re away from the fair and away from the city. Once the show starts and the seats are full, it kind of insulates us and it kind of feels like we’re in a real forest clearing and I get to introduce people to birds from around the world. That really enhances the show.”
Education and conservation are at the heart of Krathwoh’s show. He’s in the process of pairing his Andean condors with a goal of sending two parent-raised Andean condors to the Andes each year. At the end of his show, the Birdman collects optional donations to The Condor Fund, a nonprofit foundation he started to support the species.
Kurt, a blue and gold macaw, stands on top of donation box, takes bills from donors and drops them into the box.
The show takes place at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily.