MINNEAPOLIS - Looking for a way to break through the monotony of yet another Zoom meeting?
Now you can invite a real-life bird of prey to your next virtual meeting or online get-together, thanks to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.
For a $75 fee, workplaces can request an eagle, and for $50, can invite a hawk, falcon, vulture or owl to join the first 15 minutes of their meeting.
It's a program that the center, currently closed to the public during the pandemic, is calling "Raptor Zoomie."
"It just provides an injection of something different," said Julia Ponder, the center's executive director. "You send us your Zoom link and the time you want the bird on the meeting, and they will join in, in their own little square."
The Raptor Center decided to see if they could find a digital outlet for some of their birds after seeing similar programs run by zoos and animal sanctuaries around the country. They tested the concept in internal meetings first.
"We've had a couple of them in on some of our own staff meetings," Ponder said. "You know, it just does something to be able to watch these birds doing their thing and vocalizing while we're going through another Zoom meeting."
So far, Minnesota birds have hopped on to a virtual family reunion, video calls to long-term care facilities as well as corporations and individuals, she said.
The raptors don't log on to a computer, of course, but have a camera pointed at their perch, Ponder said. And some raptors have proven more vocal than others.
While the Raptor Center remains closed to visitors, it is beginning to do outreach programming in a limited way. In addition to the "Zoomies" program, the center also offers raptor flight demonstrations via Zoom and a virtual live program where those watching can ask questions.
"It's better for the birds to be busy, just like all the rest of us," Ponder said.
"These are education birds whose job is to go out and do programming outreach and do environmental education," she said. "Quite honestly, since we've been shut down since March, I hate to use the human phrase 'getting bored,' but they're starting to rip up their perches and do things to entertain themselves that we prefer they didn't do."
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