Saturday, Jan. 17 was Andy’s birthday. What makes this a special birthday is that Andy is a 56-year-old Andean condor who lives at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.
“It’s fascinating to me that Andy is older than most of the people who work with him,” says Tracy Aviary bird trainer Aron Smolley.
Andy came to Salt Lake City when he was one year old. For the first few decades he lived with his sister prior to her passing. Andy now lives in a new large enclosure on the northwest corner of Tracy Aviary.
“I was super excited to see Andy getting a new enclosure,” says Helen Dishaw, Tracy Aviary’s curator of bird training and education programs. “I helped to design and build it. Being here during the entire construction process was great, plus he really likes it.”
On his hatch day, or as the aviary calls it, his “bird-day,” they host a party for him and guests to attend. He opens gifts, guests get cupcakes and together they go for a walk.
This year’s bird-day celebration included over 100 guests on the education lawn.
“It’s moving to see this volume of people turn out to see Andy,” says Dishaw.
Over the course of 50 years, Andy developed a routine in which he remained in his enclosure all day. Today, the Andean Condor exits his enclosure on a regular basis, thanks to Dishaw, who started working with Andy four years ago.
“Misconceptions of vultures are commonplace in the real world,” says Dishaw. “I work with him everyday and I just love him; it’s other people I want to love him.”
Surrounded by cameras, partygoers and staff, Andy was the star of the show. Wandering from gift to gift, he was no fool to find the tasty treats in a matter of moments. As guests and staff cheered him on Andy was eager to circle the lawn and greet his fans.
“There were times I was standing in the middle as he opened his gifts, I would look around at all the people here to see him and it was overwhelming,” says Dishaw.
In the Old Mill, children received party hats, colored pictures of vultures and made finger paints. “Walk with a Condor,” a documentary film by Salt Lake Community College student Kachina Choate, played on the big screen upstairs.
Choate, in conjunction with Summer Bear Life Balance Education and Tracy Aviary, produced the documentary. The film describes Andy’s story of overcoming challenges and adapting to life outside of his enclosure after 50 years.
At one point, people were asking Dishaw questions and they blocked Andy’s view of her. Andy then panicked and ran for a moment in search of her until she called to him. As partygoers dissipated, Dishaw and staff walked with Andy back to his enclosure.
Andy is already looking forward to celebrating his next birthday.