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Falcon show takes flight at La Plata County Fairgrounds

Birds of prey perform twice a day; crowds have been sparse
Spooky, an 8-week-old Eurasian eagle owl, is one of the birds in the Wings Over the Rockies at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The educational show, put on by Raptors Wild Inc., teaches people about different birds of prey.

Wings Over the Rockies, a new educational bird show being held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, is struggling to attract an adequate crowd during its first summer in town.

Mike Fauteaux, president of Raptors Wild Inc., the local nonprofit working to put on the show, said it takes about 50 people buying tickets per day to break even, but so far, Wings Over the Rockies has been averaging 10 to 15 people per show, meaning the nonprofit is losing money every day. Fauteaux said if attendance doesn’t improve this week, the show, which was scheduled to run until Aug. 6, will have to end much sooner.

Wings Over the Rockies gives audience members an up-close and personal experience with the raptors. Fauteaux and his partner, Greg Rabourn, have 40 years’ experience as “master falconers.” Typically, they bring out nine to 10 different birds and share information about them, including the differences between them and the issues they face in the wild.

During the hourlong shows, audience members learn about the birds’ hunting practices, digestion and other anatomy. Fauteaux and Rabourn bring the raptors into the grandstands, which Fauteaux says gives audience members a different experience than if they were to see the birds in a large arena. The audience has shared that because of the proximity to the birds, it is an experience they will never forget. It’s not the same as seeing them on the television, Fauteaux said.

Maddy, a Harris’s hawk, prepares to land Tuesday on the arm of Greg Rabourn at the Wings Over the Rockies show at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The hourlong shows teach people about the hunting practices and anatomy of birds of prey.

When the show finishes, people typically stick around to ask questions and take photos of the birds.

Fauteaux said the purpose of Wings Over the Rockies is to educate people about the wildlife around them. He said certain nature shows may “water down” the realities of nature.

Mike Fauteaux with Wings Over the Rockies holds Maddy, a Harris’s hawk, as he talks to the crowd Tuesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Fauteaux says the purpose of the bird show is to educate people about the wildlife around them.

“We want people to think about the birds when they see them,” Fauteaux said. “They think about the birds and they think about what effects the wild has on the birds, and it just gives them a different perspective of them.”

Fauteaux’s interest in falconry spawned from reading the book “My Side of the Mountain.” It hooked him on learning about falconry and anything having to do with birds of prey.

When he was in elementary school, Fauteaux would walk to his grandmother’s house after school. One day as he crossed a football field on his walk, he saw a man in the field flying a bird. Fauteaux sat in the bleachers watching. Fauteaux continued this, day after day, until the man came into the stands to ask if he’d like to learn falconry. Now, 40 years later, Fauteaux seems to have made the right choice as he and his longtime best friend have started a nonprofit that focuses on educating the public about the conservation and natural biology of wild raptors through different presentations, including Wings Over the Rockies.

The show started June 3 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Fauteaux and Rabourn said they were looking for a place with a large summer population of tourists. Rebecca Hutchinson, fair office manager and event coordinator for the fairgrounds, said the show gives tourists something to do that is not outdoor-driven. Fauteaux said the fairgrounds was ecstatic about bringing an educational show to the public.

Greg Rabourn gives audience members a close look at Frea, an Arctic gyrfalcon, on Tuesday at the Wings Over the Rockies show at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

Organizing an educational bird show is no easy feat. Fauteaux and his partner are working 16-hour days as they get the show fully up and running. A day for Fauteaux and Rabourn starts at 5 a.m. when they feed all of their birds. Each raptor eats a bird a day, even if it won’t be going to the show, meaning it costs about $21 a week to feed each bird.

Currently, Raptors Wild Inc. has 25 birds and expects to have 30 by the end of July. After breakfast, the birds are placed in individual bird boxes and put on a trailer at their home in Aztec before being driven to the fairgrounds.

bmandile@durangoherald.com

If you go

Wings Over the Rockies shows will be held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. most days until early August at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.

Tickets are available at the fairgrounds box office or online at

www.raptorswild.org

.

The cost is $20 for adults and children 13 and older, $16 for children ages 6 to 12, and children younger than 6 can attend for free.

Because the show does not run every day, check the website before attending.

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