Did you know if a hawk could read, it could read a newspaper headline from a half a mile away?
Or that a pair of barn owls can eat 2,500 mice in a single year?
These are just two of the fun facts you’ll learn at the Birds Of Prey show at Dollywood. On your next visit, I encourage to you visit the Wings of America Theatre and see some of Dollywood’s most impressive performers at work. The 30-minute show features owls, hawks, falcons, vultures, and eagles, some of whom interact with the audience like Tuck pictured here, who will take your dollar bills and deposit them into a donation box!
You’ll find the theatre located next to Eagle Mountain Sanctuary- a permanent home for disabled eagles that is managed through a long-standing partnership with the American Eagle Foundation (AEF). All of the residents of the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary are non-releasable, and would not be able to survive in the wild. In fact, Dollywood is home to the largest group of non-releasable bald eagles in the world!
I had the opportunity to meet with two of the foundations handlers, Beth and Brad, who are part of a team of eight trainers who work with the birds at Dollywood. I learned some of the common reasons birds become injured include collisions with power lines, wind turbines, and barbed wire fences. Others may have been shot or poisoned, or were separated from parents at birth during the crucial imprinting phase. This is the case of a Dollywood resident vulture named Cujo, who thinks he is human due to being raised by humans from infancy! The AEF serves to educate, conserve and protect wild birds, and there are currently about 70 birds under the foundation’s care. Handlers work with the birds with the hope of being able to release them or young they have bred back into nature. To date, they have been able to release 159 bald eagles into the wild. Those birds that are non-releasable are given a permanent home and care, and some have found their way into a successful show business career at Dollywood.
The Wings of America theatre is outside and shaded to allow the birds to swoop overhead so guests can see them soar. Wide isles allow the handlers to walk the birds through the crowd for a closer look, and after the show you can see some of the birds up close with the handlers, or in exhibits nearby. They range from diminutive hawks weighing just a few ounces, to majestic eagles with wingspans of more than six feet!
Beth told me that birds are much smarter than people think they are. They have their own personalities and she shared how some are reluctant to “practice” unless there is an audience present to supply applause! When they are not working they might be found backstage sunning themselves, which was the case when I visited. The AEF invites you to watch their eagles 24/7 on a live Eagle Cam!
The American Eagle Foundation is headquartered nearby in Pigeon Forge on a 12-acre facility. The Foundation was instrumental in the repopulation efforts of the once near-extinct bald eagle, and at this facility you’ll find large, private enclosures for breeding pairs. Learn more about the AEF on their website here.
Make it a point to see the show on your next visit, and you might even leave with plans to build yourself a nesting box or two to encourage raptors to take up residence in your yard!