The eagle has landed – quite literally – at the Kings Theatre.
Gerry the golden eagle was at the Southsea venue to promote Tosca, the opera in which he has a starring role.
The bird travelled from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre in Ringwood, Hampshire with his handler John Picton to grace the stage.
But this was only a warm-up, as Gerry and John will feature in the first act of Tosca on February 19 – their only appearance on the 74-date UK tour.
John, 30, has been training Gerry since the bird was 27 weeks old.
Now at nine months Gerry is fully grown, with a 7ft wingspan.
He is playing the hunting bird of Scarpia, the corrupt chief of police, in the opera and John said he’s a natural onstage.
‘When the lights came up he started to sun himself so you can tell they make him feel good,’ he said. ‘He’s around people all time so he’s very relaxed.’
During his visit, Gerry was held by members of staff at the Kings including PR and corporate manager Sandra Smith.
Sandra, 71, has arranged for a variety of animals to appear at the theatre during her career, including ponies, donkeys and frogs.
But getting up close and personal with a bird of prey was another matter.
She said: ‘I’ve got the shakes now! My husband won’t believe I’ve done it. I love birds, but I like looking at them, not touching them. And an eagle is a bit different from budgies. He was pretty heavy but very well-behaved.’
Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre is home to more than 130 birds of prey and 50 different species.
The centre takes in rescued birds and is also involved in conservation projects.
Owner Lynda Bridges said that public appearances with the birds helps to raise awareness of their work.
‘Gerry is bred from another bird in captivity, and if golden eagle populations decrease he can be reintroduced into the wild,’ she said.
‘The species is making a comeback, but in Scotland where they live they’re still persecuted by farmers who think they eat their lambs. In fact they live off rabbit, hare, or even roe deer.’
Lynda, 55, added: ‘When you take them anywhere different you don’t know exactly how the birds will react, but I’m really impressed with how Gerry’s been.
‘You can’t tame an animal, you can only train them. People think they are like puppies that you can stroke, but you have to respect them and what they can do.’