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High fliers

CENTRAL POINT — Joe Krathwohl opens the carrier door, and Victoria and her bright white collar do an electric slide down her travel-trailer’s gangplank, ready to knock out a show.

The bleachers at The Expo’s Olsrud Arena are empty this Thursday afternoon, but Victoria — the only female Andean condor on the outdoor show circuit in North America — is still working the room.

She pumps her 10-foot wingspan to fly-hop from perch to perch, ignoring the open door to potential freedom in favor of a stage life that includes chicken meat stuffed in Krathwohl’s leather glove.

All that’s missing is the cardboard sign: “Will work for food.”

“She’s still a condor,” Krathwohl says. “But she knows I’m the payroll.”

Victoria will be strutting for the paying folk Friday through Sunday as she headlines the headliner animal show at the 20th annual Jackson County Sportsmen’s and Outdoor Recreation Show at the Expo.

She and Krathwohl, known as the Birdman of Las Vegas, have teamed up for the past 25 years, often flying outdoors where she has the ability to ride an air funnel to freedom, but she never has. Nor ever will.

“Condors are opportunists, so I give them the easiest opportunity for food and a little work that helps both of us and keeps this show on the road,” Krathwohl says.

This leg of the show at the Expo runs from noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Besides the rare condor, Krathwohl’s show includes a menagerie of flying and flightless birds ranging from macaws, vultures and hawks to the flightless cassowary, known as the most dangerous bird in the world for its occasional penchant to attack and kill humans in its native Indonesia and Australia.

But Victoria will join the cassowary on the ground, because the Olsrud Arena has too low a ceiling for her to get her wings going skyward.

“These guys are like hangliders,” Krathwohl says. “Getting off the ground isn’t easy.”

The condor and Krathwohl’s other birds will be on stage every two hours beginning at 1 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, closing after the 3 p.m. show.

As in past years, human early birds have a chance to cash in thanks to sponsorship by the Oregon Lottery. The first 100 adults in the door each day get a coupon for a 100-percent match on lottery purchases up to $25. The remaining visitors get a free $2 Powerball ticket coupon.

More than $60,000 in prizes are also potentially available to attendees, and that’s the most in the two-decade run of the show.

For a full rundown of show and presentation times, vendors and other information, see www.exposureshows.com.

Like condors, which have a home range of 300 miles as they forage for dead animals, Krathwohl’s path to The Expo was 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 close to 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 equally endangered California condor.

The Kurok Tribe of Northern California is in the midst of a plan to reintroduce California condors into the lower Klamath River Basin, meaning it’s quite possible they could also fly over the Rogue River and even eventually spread here.

But this is Southern Oregon’s only chance to see an Andean 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.

Like this weekend, they can’t always fly indoors, though most show-goers think it’s safer than outside and untethered.

“I don’t worry about her flying off outdoors,” Krathwohl says. “I’m more concerned about her crashing into things hanging off the ceiling.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVictoria the condor flies to the next stand inside the Olsrud Arena at the Jackson County Expo Thursday morning.