This Saturday onlookers in New Haven’s Edgerton Park caught a rare glimpse of the world’s largest bird of prey.
In the highlight of a two-part program sponsored by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Veedor, the only tame, free-flying condor in the world, captivated an audience of several hundred people as handlers showcased the bird and spoke about its experiences in captivity.
John McNeely, Veedor’s owner, explained in a slide presentation before the flight demonstration that although the 17 year-old Andean Condor is too tame to ever be released back into the wild or to be used for breeding, Veedor still serves a definite purpose.
“He is valuable as an educational resource,” McNeely said. “His genes are already well represented via his parents and grandparents in breeding captivity.”
McNeely said condors are shot for food as well as for their highly prized feathers and there are now less than 1,000 Andean condors left in the world.
McNeely, who acquired Veedor from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the age of 14 months, conducted Veedor’s flight demonstration along with handlers Scott Sinclair and Diane Denardo.
The crowd cheered as the 28-pound bird emerged from the keepers’ truck and soared over to McNeely’s outstretched, gloved hand, never flying more than a few feet off the ground. McNeely then walked from one side of the crowd to the other as Veedor — Spanish for “the overseer” — showed off his 9.5-foot wingspan.
In a demonstration of their methods of reinforcing Veedor’s social dominance — a natural trait in condors — the handlers took turns trying to wrest a large cardboard box from his grasp, eventually allowing him to triumph. McNeely said because Veedor’s social interaction is limited to humans, it is important to allow him to retain his naturally dominant position.
“He’s so imprinted to people that he’s not interested in other condors,” McNeely said. “If we were to dominate every aspect of his life, we’d just sort of squash his territory.”
Veedor further displayed his supremacy when he bit Denardo’s glove-protected hand.
“[Condors] are so smart and have social dominance, so he bit me to say who was going to be in charge,” Denardo said.
Veedor showed a stubborn side toward the end of the program, settling down in the shade and ignoring his handlers’ calls as they attempted to bring him closer to the audience.
“He understands what I’m saying, but he’s very independent,” McNeely said.
Veedor was finally compelled to fly back to the main viewing area when the handlers lured him with a cup of water. After the demonstration, the handlers put Veedor back in a truck as people crowded around in order to get a closer look.
Susie Hawthorne of Hamden said the demonstration exceeded her expectations.
“It was much more than I expected. It was so up close and to see him fly and walk around was wonderful.”