Hail to the queen

With a 10-foot wingspan and beady red eyes, Queen Victoria the condor flapped her wings for dozens of Bellview Elementary students early Friday.

"To me, these birds are like royalty," said trainer Joe Krathwohl, "so they're all named after kings and queens."

Krathwohl showed the bird to about 50 fourth-graders during a special presentation, explaining what their life is like inside and outside of captivity.

He'll show two condors during shows today and Sunday at the KDRV Sportsmen's and Outdoor Recreation Show at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point.

Queen Victoria, or "Vickie," is the youngest of Krathwohl's five condors. She is a 20-year-old Andean condor that he's owned since she was born in the Buffalo, N.Y., zoo, he told students.

"I've used her in all kinds of presentations," said Krathwohl.

He said the bird has been on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman and in presentations at the White House.

"Now, if she comes close to you, do not panic," Krathwohl told eager students before bringing the condor out of her cage.

He explained that the birds eat about two pounds of meat per day — more than 700 pounds a year — and are able to store six pounds of meat at a time in their "crop," an extension of their esophagus.

"I liked how they had a little refrigerator to store their food," said 10-year-old Kody Cobb after hearing about the crop. "I liked how tall and long his wings were. It was really, really cool."

Krathwohl let the condor walk around Bellview's science classroom, slipping on the slick tile floors.

"That's how my dog is on our wood floors," said Elaina Stranberg, 9. "It was fun having it walk down the aisles."

Krathwohl, who calls himself "The Birdman," has been raising condors since 1991, and has dozens of birds at his facility outside of Las Vegas. He said his mission is to breed condors for release into the wild.

He explained that condors are a unique species, and their desire to eat animal carcasses helps to clean the habitats in which they choose to live.

"They are the garbage men of the natural planet," said Krathwohl. "That's why they're so important to us."

Krathwohl used pieces of meat to lure Queen Victoria around the classroom Friday, having her perch on tables and walk through an aisle of students.

"I thought it was cool how he was attracted to the meat," said Gabby Heiken, 9. "I loved watching the bird."

"The wingspan was amazing," said fourth-grader Hank Hanlet. "And I thought his head was cool, it almost looked like he had rhino skin."

Queen Victoria and another condor will be a part of four shows today and three tomorrow at the Expo. Those who attend will learn the story of the condor's decline and recovery, and see a condor fly over the audience. Eagles, vultures, cranes, a pelican and a singing parrot will also be part of the shows.

Hundreds of other outdoor and recreation exhibits will be at the Expo this weekend, including a super zipline and live hunting dog demos.

For more information, see www.exposureshows.com.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.

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