Jonathan Wood said he knew the TIME magazine photo shoot with his 27-year-old bald eagle named “Uncle Sam” and GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump was going to be difficult.
On Wednesday, TIME released footage of the August cover shoot that included the eagle lunging at Trump, who flinched in terror. It also showed the eagle flipping Trump’s hair while sitting on his shoulder.
Trump told Fox News Thursday he wasn’t “really” scared of the majestic bird.
“I’m doing this for the cover of TIME magazine,” he said during the photo shoot. “I love TIME magazine. What you will do for a cover — this bird is seriously dangerous, but beautiful.”
Wood, who has been Uncle Sam’s handler for more than 20 years, said that he was especially “cranky” on the day of the shoot, having just spent a flight from Dallas to New York locked away in cargo.
Trump was also one of the only people to ever hold Uncle Sam on his shoulder — and for good reason. Uncle Sam is missing part of his wing and is blind in one eye, and thus has a difficult time balancing himself. This is why Uncle Sam messed up Trump’s hair while sitting on his shoulder.
“I already knew that it was going to be a very difficult thing to do and I said that to Mr. Trump,” he told INSIDER.
Wood added that when the eagle tried to bite Trump, causing the candidate to recoil in fear, he had forgotten to mention something very important: Uncle Sam, as bald eagles do, will claim and defend any space he’s set on as his territory.
“I forgot to tell Mr. Trump about that whole territorial thing, ’cause the bird was sitting off kind of to the side,” Wood said, adding that the bird only pretends it’s going to bite, and that Uncle Sam hasn’t bit anybody in the 20 years he has handled him.
The bald eagle has been in his fair share of photo shoots, previously posing with Stephen Colbert and former President Bill Clinton. Uncle Sam even reunited with Trump earlier this year, at a golf course.
Wood said that besides these few moments the shoot went very well. He even got to join an exclusive club while monitoring Uncle Sam.
“I had the honour of actually helping, ya know, fix Donald Trump’s hair,” he said. “So I’m the member of a very exclusive club of people that have actually touched his hair. And it’s real.”
Story by Allan Smith and editing by Kristen Griffin
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