It’s difficult to say if living in a cramped space with two other people for 24 hours while surviving off nothing but sugar water and beef jerky shot from a catapult would count as the best job, the worst or just the weirdest, but this is what the cast of a new National Geographic Wild show is tasked with this week at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The premise of “Live Like an Animal” combines art, engineering and natural history as the three male hosts attempt to recreate the conditions of an animal’s nest as closely as possible. This week, it’s hummingbirds. Or as series producer Richard Pearson put it: “It combines natural history, engineering and three eccentric Englishmen, who all bring something to the party.”
Lloyd Buck, one of the three kooky Englishmen nesting this week, added, “Well, you have to be a bit eccentric to want to do this.”
Buck, the show’s resident bird specialist, is tasked with delivering the details of nest. For instance, hummingbirds use spidersilk to build their nests so that when their “Tic Tac-sized” eggs hatch and the chicks grow, the nest can expand outward. Therefore, the show used 1,800 feet of bungie to recreate hummingbird nest potential.
“Eccentric? No, I don’t like that,” said James Cooper, another nester and a marine engineer responsible for the creation of the structures. “That makes me sound like I have a disorder.”
“Shut up and put your bird mask back on,” said Matty Thompson, the third wannabe bird, a naturalist.
The three men all wear colorful birds masks, and if their rapid-fire, impossible-to-keep-up-with-via-handwritten-notes banter is any indication, spending 24 hours listening to them talk over each other could be immensely enjoyable.
In addition to living inside the man-sized hummingbird nest set up right in the middle of Lincoln Park Zoo, the three men were given nothing to eat but 80 liters of sugar water (hummingbirds eat their own weight in nectar each day) and beef jerky catapulted from afar to replicate the protein from bugs the hummingbirds catch.
“We may get a bit hyper,” said Buck of the sugar water diet.
“Or crescendo to an energetic peak and then fall straight into a torpor,” suggested Cooper.
“Because hummingbirds do go into a torpor when the temperature drops below a certain level,” said Buck. “Almost like a hibernation.”
Choosing Chicago as a shooting location following London and New York had several factors, but according to Pearson, one of the big ideas was the upcoming Air and Water Show this weekend: Buck will be strapped into one of the stunt planes and taken for a ride.
“The male hummingbirds do a 9-G dive to attract the ladies,” Pearson explained. “So we wanted to recreate the male hummingbird experience of that dive and the Air and Water Show was perfect for that.”
Buck explained that the show’s aims is to use the silly stunts in big public spaces to demonstrate the marvel of “the animal architects that create these incredibly brilliant structures and what we can learn from these amazing creatures.”
The show debuts in spring 2012, and until then Buck, Cooper and Thompson say they’re having fun spending time in Chicago.
“Been to a lot of blues clubs,” Thompson said. “I’d never been to Chicago before, but I love it. And the girls here are very pretty. “