Animal wrangler Jim Brockett stands a few yards away from Arrow, like a director studying his actor.
The African augur hawk latches his yellow talons onto what looks like a severed finger — actually a piece of foam — and swoops into the air before landing on the gauntlet of a falconer (who promptly rewards him with a thawed chick stashed in a leather pouch).
"He's got the finger part down," says Brockett, who's helping train Arrow for a macabre scene in the crime drama "Bones."
Brockett, 70, and his wife, Gina, are owners of Brocketts Film Fauna Inc. in Thousand Oaks. They have been supplying hawks, bobcats, alligators, snakes, spiders, lizards and various other critters to the entertainment industry for more than three decades, operating out of a secluded five-acre ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Brocketts and their animals have made regular appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," numerous crime dramas including "True Blood" and "CSI:NY," and movies such as "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "We Bought a Zoo."
But they've grown increasingly uncertain about the future of their business.
"We're not going to be doing it that much longer," Gina Brockett says. "It's going to go away."
Animal trainers and wranglers, those who handle horses and other animals and transport them to sets, have been fixtures of the motion picture industry since the dawn of Hollywood. But many veterans in Southern California view themselves as an endangered species in their own right.
They cite the growing use of digital effects, the flight of film work from Southern California, as well as mounting pressure from animal rights groups.
The use of animals in film and television productions has become increasingly controversial. HBO in 2012 shut down production of its drama "Luck" after three horses.
The horse deaths renewed debate in the industry about the use of animals on film sets and the role of the American Humane Assn., the group charged with safeguarding the welfare of animals in entertainment.
Tippi Hedren, the actress and animal rights activist best known for her role in "The Birds," lobbied for a bill that would outlaw the private breeding and possession of exotic cats except at highly qualified facilities, such as accredited zoos. Similar measures have been proposed for bears and primates but have been resisted by the circus industry.
Although none have been approved by Congress, animal wranglers like Jim Brockett view them as a threat to their livelihood. He and his peers contend that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups pressure filmmakers to avoid using live animals on sets, and constantly lobby federal and state agencies to impose costly rules aimed at driving them out of business.
"I would have to say they are not wrong," says PETA spokeswoman Lisa Lange. "We'd like to see them pursue other careers. We do want to see a complete end to the use of wild animals in film and television, and we're getting there."
Brockett's face tightens when the subject turns to animal rights activists who criticize his trade. He insists the film and television industry has helped to educate the public about the animals the activists think they're protecting.
"No one would care about dolphins," he says, "if there wasn't a TV show like 'Flipper.'"
Brockett's journey into the animal kingdom began nearly four decades ago, when he graduated from Cal State L.A. with a degree in zoology, headed south on his motorcycle and kept riding — all the way to Brazil. Running out of money, he started exporting wild animals to zoos and dealers throughout the world.