In the Beginning Was the Bird

In recent years, a theory has gained currency in paleontological circles that, basically, dinosaurs didn't really become extinct -- they just grew feathers, and a few of them learned to fly. Modern-day birds, the theory holds, are not just distant evolutionary cousins of the bad boys of the Jurassic, but their direct descendents. If the dinosaurs had landed at Plymouth Rock, then birds would make up the membership of the Mayflower Society. Or something like that.

You'll probably find yourself agreeing with this hypothesis if you visit the Chandler Ostrich Festival, slated from Friday, March 9, through Sunday, March 11, at Dr. A.J. Chandler Park in downtown Chandler, and get a good look at the honorees. Take away the feathers, and the fast-running, long-necked, long-legged, small-headed, extra-jumbo avians look like they should be chasing actors around in a Steven Spielberg movie. And yet here they are, being displayed and raced for your amusement, and their meat, eggs and skin employed to fill your bellies and cover your feet. How the mighty have fallen.

Chandler's 13th annual fest includes races, both bareback and chariot, of the jockey-challenging big birds, at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. all three days at the racetrack at the northwest corner of the intersection of Delaware and Boston streets. The 45-minute exhibitions will also feature a miniature horse show and dressage horse show. Tickets for the races are $4 for adults, $1 for kids 12 and younger.

The Ostrich Festival Parade is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 10. A variety of floats, celebrities, bands and other colorful hoopla heads south on Arizona Avenue from Ray Road to Frye Road.

An extensive live-entertainment bill includes concerts by the likes of Blessid Union of Souls (10 p.m. Friday), John Kay & Steppenwolf (8 p.m. Saturday), the Marshall Ticker Band (10 p.m. Saturday), and Los Incomparables De Tijuana at 9 p.m. on the Latin-music-oriented "Fietsa Sunday." Numerous major local and regional acts, including Walt Richardson and Morningstar, Hans Olson, Innuendo, the Royal Normans, Smoot Mahooty, Bit O Jane, Nitpickers, and jazz vocalist Diane Lee, are also featured. All of the concerts are free; go to for a full concert schedule.

The weekend also includes carnival rides and games, a kids' zone featuring interactive games and carnival rides for the smaller set. Adjacent to the kids' section, and new to the fest this year, is an exhibit of live baby ostriches, specially incubated and hatched for the fest and about 45 days old, from the "Awesome Big Bird Ranch" in Casa Grande. The "awwww" factor should be pretty high in this display.

Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. all three days. Admission is free, but fees are charged for rides and races. For details call 480-963-4571.