Last week's cold snap may have taken a bite out of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, but organizers hope the weekend's balmy weather made up for it.
Here are some cool facts that Birds of Prey education director Stephen Schabel shared with the crowd during Sunday's demonstration in Marion Square.
Why do owls twist their heads completely backwards? It's not to look behind them. It's so they can clean their rear feathers.
Owls have such good ears they can hear a mouse under the leaves on the ground and swoop down and grab it.
The Eurasian falcon can see ultraviolet light. So what? Mole urine emits UV light. The birds can spot the urine from the air and know where to hunt.
What good are vultures, those nasty birds that eat dead things? Without them, mice and rats and other rodents would feed on dead animals, multiply and spread diseases. Vultures don't carry diseases.
The exposition is the year's first big event for hotels and restaurants and is closely watched as a barometer of the tourist season.
Charleston Place, which is host to many of the art exhibits, is usually booked for the weekend. Occupancy was around 86 percent Sunday after cancellations because of the weather, front office manager Jessica Billings said. On the other hand, the cancellations allowed many guests to extend their stay longer than planned, she said.
The icy weather late last week hurt attendance from out of town, but Saturday and Sunday's pleasant weather helped mitigate the damage, SEWE President and CEO Jimmy Huggins said Sunday.
"It (the storm) kept a lot of our out-of-town buyers from coming in, but it looks to me like the nice weekend more than made up for it," Huggins said. "I think we probably overcame what the ice initially did to us. But of course if the ice had never happened, we would have had a double good year."
Actual figures on attendance and sales won't be available for a couple days, marketing director Mary Roberts said. She said she's optimistic the weekend's good weather outweighed last week's bad weather.
"Everything I saw was packed," she said.
If it's any indication, vendors ran out of beer at Brittlebank Park on Saturday, where the water dogs were performing , she said.
Executive Director John Powell also was optimistic.
"We saw lines out the door of restaurants," he said.
An artist who made the trip from snowy Cleveland to set up in Charleston Place said he was sure some of his regulars from out of town didn't make it this time but sales were good anyway.
"I'm running a little above last year," David Petlowany said Sunday afternoon. He sells stone sculptures that would fit on a coffee table and cost between $300 and $1,500.
Marion Square was packed for the free events Sunday, as temperatures rose into the mid-60s under sunny skies. As usual, the Birds of Prey demonstration drew hundreds of people.
The falcon was on a string after one flew off Saturday. Trainers spent five hours tracking it down with a radio transmitter, following it from the roof of Charleston Place Hotel to the Mills House Hotel to the Peoples Building, education director Stephen Schabel said. The quick-flying bird was finally lured off the top of the Sumter House near White Point Gardens and captured.
But the yellow-billed kite was free flying, soaring over the crowd in great circles as it deftly snatched food in midflight from a trainer's hand without touching her fingers.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.
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