On April 26, 2008, the Baltimore Ravens welcomed a slew of new faces to the organization.
That day's NFL Draft brought a fresh crop of future stars to the team. But April 26 also marked the birth of two exotic African White Nape Ravens that will be on hand to perform at all of the Ravens' home games. The pair was recently named Rise and Conquer.
As the football team gears up for the 2008 season, the live ravens are going through their own training camp of sorts that began virtually at the time of their birth.
Bringing the birds to a point where they are ready to perform at M&T Bank Stadium is no small task, and the Ravens entrusted the process to a man who knows a thing or two about animals.
Daniel Walthers of Commerce, Ga., began working with birds as a nine-year-old and never stopped. He boasts over 30 years of training and handling of all types of animals, but primarily birds.
Upon talking with Walthers, his love and passion for working with birds – Rise and Conquer, in particular – becomes immediately evident.
"The time I'm dedicating to what we're trying to do is huge," the trainer stated, "but it's probably one of the most enjoyable things I've done."
Soon after Rise and Conquer were hatched and healthy, Walthers began teaching them to fly.
"Originally, they spend most of the time sleeping and then eventually they'll nest," Walthers said. "They stand on the edge of the nest, and then, eventually, they walk to me.
"When I go to feed them, they'll actually take a couple steps," he continued. "They might get tired after a couple steps and lay down again. That's how it all starts, so you can imagine how small these little steps are."
From there, the ravens began practicing jumping from a perch to Walthers.
"In the very beginning, I actually have them hop into the nest again because it's this big, open platform for them," the trainer explained. "Pretty soon, they jump and end up on arm on the edge of the nest. Then, they're landing on my arm and I'm backing up a couple feet."
But Walthers said Rise and Conquer didn't take much time before moving on to bigger and better things.
"On a day-to-day basis, I take them out on the property," Walthers explained. "We have 40 acres, and we'll do a lot of flying down in the open area down by our barn. I'll take them to different areas each day."
Moving around to various settings helps prepare the birds for their upcoming role representing the Ravens. By exposing them to new and different experiences, Walthers is essentially teaching Rise and Conquer to expect the unexpected.
For instance, a raven will occasionally accompany Walthers on his runs to the feed store.
"I let people come up and see them," Walthers said. "That kind of thing and doing something different each day makes them the best birds they'll ever be. They're adaptable. Their stress levels are much better. They don't stress because they're being exposed to all this stuff. It's when we don't expose them that they become stressed."
But Rise and Conquer won't be heading into completely unfamiliar territory when they swoop in and pump up M&T Bank Stadium. Walthers plays a DVD for the ravens each day with the team's entrance video and music, familiarizing them with some of the sights and sounds that they will encounter.
Through the tireless efforts of their trainer, Rise and Conquer amassed a huge amount of knowledge over the summer. Walthers is excited to have the ravens ready – physically and mentally – to perform by the time football season commences.
And when 53 fierce competitors don the purple and black to take the field this fall, they will be led by their proud, feathered namesakes whose monikers describe the team's ultimate gridiron goal – Rise and Conquer.