Bird keeper

Grey Fisher Taronga Zoo

Time Out (Sydney) - - CITY LIFE - Claire Fin­neran à Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Rd, Mos­man 2088. 02 9969 2777. taronga.org. au. $0-$46. Daily 9.30am-5pm (9.30am-4.30pm May-Aug).

The birds are on per­for­manceen­hanc­ing di­ets

“They live in flocks but they each get their own di­ets, be­cause in any group you al­ways have that one who eats a lit­tle more – like me with pizza at par­ties – so I want to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen with these guys. They’re like ath­letes, if you’re un­der­weight or over­weight, you’re not gonna per­form at your best.”

Car­niv­o­rous birds are just like us

“Most of them eat mice, which the zoo breeds then culls, and freezes them and puts them in bags. And they also get day-old chicks, which are by-prod­ucts of the hu­man food in­dus­try. And we’ll use some quail as well, which also comes from the hu­man food in­dus­try. Other than the mice, ev­ery­thing is hu­man qual­ity. The mice would be too if we ate mice, but we tend not to.”

Birds have heaps more tricks than those show-offs, the seals

“Seal train­ers have it easy be­cause seals do things we recog­nise, they stick out their tongues and wave. Ba­si­cally, ‘I see my­self in that animal and that makes me en­joy that animal.’ Birds aren’t like that. In the old days, bird shows were talk­ing par­rots and birds on bi­cy­cles but [now] we show­case what they do nat­u­rally. There’s no party tricks. We have a black-breasted buz­zard that opens emu eggs. They do that in the wild. Most peo­ple would never see that.”

The zoo’s birds are free to leave

“One of the big­gest ar­gu­ments against zoos is that peo­ple don’t like see­ing an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity. When you come to one of our shows, you’ll see our an­i­mals are not, they can leave any­time they want. Our birds fly – de­pend­ing on the weather con­di­tions – some­times, so high they’re just a speck in the sky. It’s true free­dom, but it’s still in a zoo.”

Owls are su­per­heroes. And mon­sters

“They have night­time eye­sight, su­per flex­i­bil­ity in their necks, they’ve got the strong­est feet of any rap­tor, they’ve got the most pow­er­ful hear­ing of al­most any preda­tor. I’ve just fin­ished rais­ing barn owls and I’m train­ing them for shows. Their names are Ban­shee and Wraith – be­cause another name for a barn owl is ghost owl. They reckon the leg­end of Ban­shees in Ire­land orig­i­nated when peo­ple saw barn owls. Ghost owls fly silently, have a white belly, and they have a re­ally harsh screech. Imag­ine these white things glid­ing silently at night, screech­ing – it’s easy to see why peo­ple might think it’s a scream­ing spirit.”

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