Conquer the raven caws affectionately as her owner, Daniel Walthers strokes the pale feathers on the front of her neck. The African White Nape Raven is about to be showcased with her brother, Rise, at A Purple Evening, an event catering to the Ravens' women's club.
Daniel's wife, Teresa, pets Rise in a similar fashion, calling him a good boy.
"They're very affectionate birds," Teresa says, pointing out their lively and friendly nature.
It doesn't take much time around the Walthers and their two ravens to tell how much they care about them, or how much they truly love their line of work. They were brought in last spring to train the birds, dubbed Rise and Conquer by Ravens fans in an online poll. Daniel was excited to take on the challenge, saying he's never been involved with anything like this, even after 30 years of training exotic birds and animals.
Yet nearly two months into the season, the birds have yet to fly at M&T Bank Stadium on gamedays as initially planned.
The reason is simple: they're just not ready yet.
"While we would love them to fly, our first concern is the birds' welfare and comfort," said vice-president of marketing Gabrielle Dow. "Our priority is the safety and care of these birds. Flying will always be on their timeline, not ours."
"The training came along very fast at first," Daniel noted, which is why he believed they would be ready for opening day. However, the Walthers hit a plateau preparing Rise and Conquer, chalking it up to the unpredictability of animals.
"They have good days and bad days. There are a lot of things that affect them." Daniel continued.
The Walthers have devoted much time and energy in preparing the birds for the multiple elements of the gameday environment. They even went as far as to play Ravens games on a huge projector screen to help Rise and Conquer acclimate as fast as possible.
But ultimately, there are just too many factors to account for beforehand.
"Little things will crop up that we see," Daniel said, explaining how they spent two weeks alone getting them adjusted to the cheerleaders' pom poms.
"There are many things that we can't reproduce [as well]," noted Teresa.
Aside from that, there have also been issues with training two birds at once, as they each respond differently. Conquer, the female, has adapted well to the noise but is flying faster than Daniel would like. Rise, the male, has had health issues, specifically a Vitamin D deficiency and problems with his left leg. As a result the Walthers have been playing catch-up with him.
The care and welfare of the birds, the Walthers emphasized, has come before everything else. Daniel and Teresa bring the birds to each game, preparing as if they will be ready to fly. But if something is off or doesn't feel right, they will wait.
Though they are not flying at the stadium just yet, the ravens are still making plenty of appearances on gamedays. Every home game, Daniel and Teresa are with the birds on Ravenswalk, allowing fans to take photos, ask questions and get a close-up look at the birds.
"We're just excited to be able to show off these birds," Teresa said. "So many people have asked us, 'When are they birds going to fly?' We are thrilled to see so many people interested. Believe us, no one wants to see them fly more than us."
And the Walthers are still very confident they will.
"To do what they've already done is impressive," Daniel beamed with pride, adding that Rise is already beginning to speak, something ravens do not normally develop until they are six months to a year old. Rise and Conquer are only five months old.
"They're like toddlers," Teresa explained. "Their maturity is still coming out."
Daniel noted that the birds are capable of much more than just flying, and he plans to incorporate other special elements into their routine as a surprise for fans.
"We want to make sure it goes right the first time," Daniel noted. Teresa explained that the Seattle Seahawks' Auger hawk Taima took three years to properly train.
"These are the smartest birds in the world," Daniel pointed out. "But we want to get them to a certain point. We want to keep moving forward."
Developing a close attachment to the birds is vital to their training. As a result, the livelihood of the birds became extremely important to the Walthers.
"They're part of the family," Teresa said. "The kids will watch TV with them and eat with them. They fly around the house freely."
The Ravens organization has been very pleased with the steps the Walthers have taken, as well as the progress Rise and Conquer have made. They intend to have the Walthers, as well as Rise and Conquer, be a part of the Ravens' family for years to come.
"It is a dream to be able to do this," Daniel stated.
While he couldn't give an exact timetable as to when the birds will fly, he remained upbeat that they would. For the fans eager to see the spectacle, that first flight will be worth the wait.