Interview with Steve Sass, head keeper at On The Perch Bird Park

On the Perch Bird Park is a ‘must see’ wildlife experience on the Sapphire Coast of New South Wales. Boasting more than 110 species from Australia and around the world, On The Perch has amassed one of the largest collections of birds anywhere in Australia. The park has five walk-in aviaries each designed to emulate different habitats from around the world.

We had the exciting opportunity to ask Steve and Linda Sass—the head keepers at On The Perch—some questions about the park and the work involved in maintaining such a large and diverse collection of bird species.

With such a vast number of birds, I imagine a lot of breeding happens. What do you do with all the young birds produced?

As a licensed zoo, our breeding program has some focus to requests from other zoos, or specific programs for threatened species. Should any surplus remain, these are offered to suitable qualified and licensed private aviculturists.

Which species have you had the most difficulty acquiring?

Nothing specific really. Our master plan details our intended acquisitions over time, and the key to that is to start discussions early. While it’s only April 2019, we are already having discussions with other zoos about what we would like to acquire in 2020/21.

Is there a “dream exhibit” that you’d like to create one day? What kind of birds would be in it?

Most certainly a Toucan exhibit.

Have you had any visitors who were memorably bad?

With about 16,000 visitors a year since we opened in 2015, you would think we would have had some! But no, most visitors love the bird park and spend an hour or two there.

Are there any birds that you’ve found unpleasant to keep? Either because of their behavior or their difficult care requirements.

Our softbill collection is of course the most challenging, but with 9 staff now including Linda and myself, the labour intensity to successfully breed these species is shared across our staff.

How much food do you go through in an average week? Do you produce much of it on-site, or do you rely solely on suppliers?

The simple answer is lots. About 30kg of fruit/veg weekly, which will skyrocket once the two Southern Cassowary arrive next week. Seed is about 40kg a week, mealworms about 2 kg week, tens of thousands of termites (which we farm in the surrounding forest) and tens of thousands of maggots and cockroaches (which we bred onsite). Of course, live food quantities increase in the breeding season. Our softbill mix and nectar mixes are made onsite. For the softbill mix, the base is kangaroo mince, which we use about 6kg a week.

Do you keep any birds that exhibit colour mutations, or do you prefer to keep wild types?

Licensed zoos in NSW are discouraged from displaying mutations, unless an educational benefit can be provided. We chose to exhibit 3 different mutations, Lime Yellow Princess parrot, Silver King Quail and Silver Diamond Dove. An interpretative sign explains the hows and whys of genetic mutations and that they naturally occur in the wild.

Does the zoo represent your entire bird collection, or do you also maintain a private collection?

The zoo currently has 114 different species of about 650 birds. While a substantial part of Linda and I’s private collection made it to On the Perch, we still maintain a small private collection, that will remain private.

If you’d like to learn more about On The Perch (and perhaps plan a visit), head over to their website for more information.