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High Flyers

Joe Krathwohl grabs a fist-full of beef heart to help his Andean condor stretch her wings after a few days on the road.

He tosses a chunk of meat down on the The Expo floor, and the bird runs after it like a gangly young Lab. She turns and dashes back to Krathwohl, her 10-foot wings extended to help her body leap literally into his arms.

"When she flies outdoors, you can see how she'll block the sun like an airplane," says Krathwohl, aka The Birdman.

She'll have to settle for blocking out a few halogens during this weekend's indoor flights as North America's only traveling Andean condor show will highlight this year's Sportsmen's and Outdoor Recreation Show at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point.

Krathwohl's performances, which are included in the price of admission into the show, run at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. today; 11:30 a.m., 3:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday.

The rare birds, which have the widest wingspan of any flying bird in the world, headline the 14th-annual recreation show, which includes an array of demonstrations, booths and speakers.

This year's lineup includes Howe & Howe Technologies — of Discovery Channel fame — which will display and demonstrate its unique all-terrain vehicles, which are used for extreme outdoor adventures as well as public safety, military use and accessibility for the physically disabled.

Expert speakers include hunting and fishing guide Jody Smith of Elkton and Glenn Hall, host of the television fishing show "Hawg Quest."

The condors won't be the only things flying around The Expo this weekend, says show organizer Joe Pate. This year's production will include a zip-line for visitors to try.

"People have gone nuts for that thing," Pate says. "I thought it would be a neat spectacle, but I didn't think it would be this popular."

But the show's top flyers remain Krathwohl's two condors, the larger and more prolific cousin of the rare California condor.

Like condors, which have a home range of 300 miles as they forage for dead animals, Krathwohl's path to The Expo is a long one.

At age 10 and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, he bought a parrot and taught it to do tricks. He did his first show for classmates at 14, and a year later he was training parrots for a pet wholesaler.

At 16, Krathwohl got a regular gig entertaining car-wash customers while their vehicles were in suds, and he became a parrot-whisperer of sorts, going to people's homes and teaching them how to train their own parrots.

But five shows a day with someone else's birds didn't pull down enough cash. So Krathwohl bought and trained five birds of his own, launching his own act in 1983.

He worked Marriott's Great America while earning a psychology degree at San Jose State University. He then headed to Las Vegas in 1989 to work hotels and casinos, eventually morphing into The Bird Man of Las Vegas, knocking out 1,000 shows a year while accumulating more than 1,100 birds, a few tigers and other exotic pets, some of which get rented out.

He started training Andean condors in 1991, in part because he believed they were getting less interest and respect than their more famous cousin, the California condor.

Trained Andean condors are in a few zoos, and only three private trainers own them, which are all captive-bred. Only Krathwohl takes them on tours.

"They just seem to be drop-kicked by everyone else, and I don't understand why," he says.

They train similarly to other birds, with food rewards.

Krathwohl's birds are not tethered. They are so massive they can't just leap off the ground and fly, needing to ride a thermal skyward when in the wild.

But these birds have no interest in fleeing. Krathwohl has proven to them he's the best game in town.

"You make them understand that this is the most profitable location for them to be in," he says.

He has two birds on the tour — a female he's trained for 20 years and a new male he bought last year from a New York nature center.

The female does the show performances. She'll glide from a perch about 25 feet high and land on Krathwohl's arm.

As part of his routine, Krathwohl goes into detail about the birds, how chemicals damaged egg thicknesses in condors and other raptors, which caused them to almost go extinct.

He will discuss their habitat and habits and what's being done to help boost their wild population, which numbers about 1,200, he says.

But the Andean condor glide is what the audience comes for, and it's why Krathwohl brings the condors to them.

Oh, and don't worry about bringing wide-brimmed hats to Krathwohl's performances.

Like other land birds, condors will poop at takeoff but never when in the air.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

An Andean condor spreads its wings while flying to his trainer, Joe Krathwohl, at The Expo Thursday. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch