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July 16, 2014

Sonny Carlin uses birds to demonstrate life lessons at Nederland library

NEDERLAND — What can a few macaws, a cockatoo, a parrot and a dove teach children about life?

If they’re trained by Sonny “The Bird Man” Carlin, they can complete tasks that demonstrate humanitarian values like compassion, trust and love.

Take James, a Yellow-naped Amazon from Brazil, who clasps a hoop with his claws as Carlin spins it counterclockwise in the air.

“This bird has guts of steel,” Carlin says. “I say that because I believe this bird is willing to die for me with the amount of trust that he has.”

Next, Carlin presents a thick rope for James to grab. He then begins to swing James — upside down — by the rope above his head like a helicopter propeller.

The children at the Marion & Ed Hughes Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, Wednesday — where Carlin presented his Exotic Wings Productions program — gasp and cheer as James keeps swinging, flapping his wings as if he will lift Carlin off the ground like a hot air balloon.

Throughout the 40-minute presentation, Carlin pairs humor with his show-biz birds in order to instill positive messages.

Jake, a Military Macaw, loads up a bird-size grocery cart with healthy snacks before pedaling a bicycle across the stage. After teaching children the benefits of eating right and exercising, he puts his “allowance” — a single large coin — into the “bank.”

Cinnamon, a Scarlet Macaw from Bolivia, teaches the audience how to try your best.

“Cinnamon is probably one of my best birds,” Carlin says. “He’s into gymnastics.”

Carlin slides his index finger under Cinnamon’s leg and gently lifts the bird to encourage him to roll over. He signals the bird to do it on his own, but Cinnamon gets a bout of stage fright.

“I don’t force my birds to do anything,” Carlin tells the children as he slowly lifts Cinnamon’s leg again. “I think he’s fixing to decide he wants to do this.”

Cinnamon raises the leg Carlin had been lifting before pausing for a few moments like a flamingo. Slowly, he lowers his beak to the stage and rolls onto his back and stands up again.

“Let’s give Cinnamon a great hand,” Carlin says, giving the bird a treat and switching props on the stage.

“This next trick is called ‘walking on the basketball.’ It is probably one of the hardest tricks I’ve ever taught, and I’ve been training birds for 20 years.”

Carlin demonstrates how a regular-sized basketball will gently roll between two rods fixed at a slope on the stage. Cinnamon is instructed to “walk the ball,” backwards, in order to guide it down the slope.

“You see, in life, you can do anything you want to do,” Carlin says. “You just have to want it bad enough. Don’t give up. So let’s encourage him.”

The children cheer for Cinnamon, and the bird rolls the ball down the slope — flapping his wings for balance. He completes his remaining tricks and then Carlin introduces Moses, a white Sulpher-crested Cockatoo from Australia.

“This is the star bird of the show,” Carlin says.

Moses warms up by playing fetch, rollerskating, skateboarding and checking his mailbox. He raises an American flag in tribute to any U.S. veterans in the Audience. Then, things start to get hot.

“There is nothing we can’t achieve,” Carlin says, lighting a flame on each end of a stick. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t achieve something — because it ain’t true.”

Moses waits for his flaming stick atop a tightrope. Carlin places the center of the stick into Moses’ beak and pauses for a moment to make sure the bird has it balanced.

Moses moves sideways — slowly and deliberately — along the tightrope with the stick. When he reaches the end, he passes it back to Carlin and receives an ovation from the audience.

“Kids, folks, you’ve seen some stuff that you’ve never seen before,” Carlin says. “So if someone calls you a ‘birdbrain,’ take it as a compliment. We want you to do the right thing. Make the right choices. Because if you fail to do so, the worst is yet to come.”

The Marion & Ed Hughes Public Library is located at 2712 Nederland Ave.

For more Summer Reading Program events, visit www.ned.lib.tx.us/.

Email: chenderson@panews.com

Twitter: @crhenderson90

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