The Avian Scientific Advisory Group (ASAG) embraces the following shared goals: achieving joint excellence in avian management; promoting focus on conservation; and responding to common challenges facing bird programs within AZA institutions.  The group provides a forum where new people, new ideas and visions are welcome and where mentoring is valued.  Members work in a cooperative and mutually supportive fashion to achieve long-term objectives.


Mission Statement

The mission of the Avian Scientific Advisory Group is to support Zoo and Aquarium avian programs, conservation of bird species and to serve as a resource on ornithological issues.


Membership in ASAG

Any interested employee of an AZA accredited zoo or aquarium (primarily bird curators, bird collection managers, and bird keepers) can be a member of ASAG.  There are no formal requirements for general membership; attending ASAG meetings or ASAG sponsored workshops.  For the purposes of conducting business, each accredited facility has one designated staff member who is the official institutional representative (IR) to ASAG and as such, is on the ASAG e-mail list serve.


What ASAG Does


ASAG helps organize and assist bird curators, collection managers, and keepers to meet their husbandry, population management, conservation and education responsibilities by:


·         Organizing workshops on topics of particular interest to zoo or aquarium bird managers at one AZA regional conference each year.  Facilitates selection of workshop topics and regional conference site (see more below).

·         Acting as a liaison with:  the AZA Board of Directors; WCMC; the AZA office of Legislative and Government affairs; the AZA Animal Welfare Committee; AAZK; SPMAG; IDMAG; Zoo Veterinarians; Zoo Registrars; the Ornithological Council of North America and others.

·         Organizing ASAG meetings at all AZA National conferences and at one AZA regional each year (see more below).

·         Convening strategic planning workshops every 3 – 5 years for long-range planning.

·         Managing a list serve for timely and efficient information exchange.


ASAG History


ASAG started as an informal group of bird curators, keepers and other interested animal managers that gathered at AZA conferences to discuss avian issues.  In 1988, the group put together two avian workshops at the AZA Central Regional conference.  The goal of the workshops was to encourage dialogue between bird curators and field researchers on captive management practices.  Workshops have been part of an AZA regional conference annually since 1988.


A workshop fund raising committee was established in 1988.  This committee is currently the Finance committee and was created to generate revenue to sponsor guest speakers for the workshops from outside the North American zoo community.


At the 1991 AZA annual conference, AZA President-elect, Steve Wylie offered to guide the group through the process of strategic planning in order to focus the group’s activities to meet future challenges.  In April, 1992, Wylie and 16 bird curators from small and large institutions developed the “North American Zoo and Aquarium Bird Curators 1992-1996 Strategic Plan”.  Five “key result areas” were identified and strategies within those were nominated for workshop topics.  A second strategic plan was developed and implemented for the years 1996-2000.


The group was formally designated as the Avian Interest Group (AIG) in 1992 to emphasize that the activities of the group were open to all.  In 1992, the AIG steering committee was formed.  The purpose of the steering committee was to coordinate meetings and other collaborative business.  This committee has evolved several times to suit the needs of the group.


The AIG was granted scientific advisory group status in 1999.  At that time the name of the group was changed to the Avian Scientific Advisory Group (ASAG).


As a result of the original strategic plan, a newsletter was created.  This newsletter now resides on the ASAG web page.  The ASAG web page   contains information about avian programs and ASAG activities.  A list serve was also created to increase communication between avian managers. 


Steering Committee Administration


Steering Committee Structure and Procedures:

The Avian Scientific Advisory Group (ASAG) steering committee is composed of 9 elected members and 4 non-voting, appointed members.  Liaisons and other appointed positions can be added at the discretion of the steering committee to address emerging avian issues.  All elected members must be the designated Institutional representatives to ASAG for their zoo.  The appointed positions are: Treasurer, Super Bird TAG Chair and AZA office liaison and American Ornithological Union (AOU) liaison.  Current vacant advisor positions to ASAG are:  American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) liaison, Veterinary advisor and Registrar advisor.


communicating to AAZK membership the goals and objectives of the strategic

plan.  Promote the exchange of ideas on how to accomplish ASAG goals. Provide an avenue for keepers to have input and involvement in ASAG activities.  The AAZK liaison will be a member of the ASAG SC listserv and will be invited to attend steering committee meetings.  Term will = 2 years.  At the end of the term, the ASAG steering committee will appoint a new liaison.


Steering Committee Structure


Chair:                          Kim Smith, Curator of Birds, Milwaukee County Zoo

                                                10001 West Bluemound Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53226

                                                Phone: (414) 256-5457; e-mail:

                                                Term :  Fall 2002 –  Fall 2005


Vice-Chair :                Joe Barkowski, Curator of Birds, Sedgwick County Zoo

                                                5555 W. Zoo Boulevard, Wichita, KS  67212

                                                Phone: (316) 942-2212 ext. 235; e-mail:

                                                Term:  Fall 2001 – Fall 2004


Secretary :                  Robert Webster, Curator of Birds, Toledo Zoo

                                                P.O. Box 4010, Toledo, OH 43609

                                                Phone: (419)389-6403; e-mail:

                                                Term :  Fall 2003 – Fall 2006


Finance  Chair:           James Mejeur,  Avian Zoological Manager, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

                                                P.O. Box 10000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

                                                Phone:  (407)  938-2871;  e-mail:

                                                Term :  Fall 2002 – Fall 2005


Steering Committee


Aliza Baltz, Curator of Birds, Philadelphia  Zoo

                                                3400 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104-1196

                                                Phone: (215)243-5368; e-mail:

                                                Term:  Fall 2003 – Fall 2006


                                                Susie Kasielke, Curator of Birds, Los Angeles Zoo

                                                5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027

                                                Phone:  (323)644-4745; e-mail:

                                                Term :  Fall 2002 – Fall 2004


                                                Jeff Sailor, Curator of Birds, Miami Metrozoo

                                                12400 SW 152nd Street, Miami, FL 33177-1402

                                                Phone: (305) 251-0400 X 251; email:  

                                                Term:  Fall 2003 – Fall 2006


                                                Tim Snyder, Curator of Birds, Birmingham Zoo

                                                2630 Cahaba Road, Birmingham, AL 35223

                                                Phone:  (205)879-0409; e-mail:

                                                Term:  Fall 2002 – Fall 2005


Martin Vince, Assistant Curator of Birds, Riverbanks Zoo

                                                P.O. Box 1060, Columbia, SC 29202

                                                Phone: (803)779-8717 ext. 1159; e-mail:

                                                Term:  Fall 2003 – Fall 2006


Steering Committee Appointed Positions


Treasurer:                              Patty McGill, Curator of Birds, Brookfield Zoo

                                                                3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield, IL  60513

                                                                Phone: (708)485-0263 ext. 470; e-mail:


Avian TAG Chair:                  Sherry Branch, Curator of Birds, Sea World Orlando

                                                                7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando, FL  32821

                                                                Phone: (407)351-3600; e-mail:


AZA Liaison:                          Ruth Allard, Conservation Biologist, AZA

                                                                8403 Colesville Rd., Suite 710, Silver Spring, MD 20910

                                                                Phone : (301) 562-0777 ext. 239 ; e-mail :


AOU Liaison:                         Megan Ross, Curator of Birds, Lincoln Park Zoo

                                                                2001 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL  60614

                                                                Phone: (312)742-7925; e-mail:


AAZK Liaison:                       Kevin Shelton, Senior Biologist, The Florida Aquarium

                                                                701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL  33602-5614

                                                                Phone:  (813) 273-4000; e-mail:


Marketing/PR Advisor:         Kelly McGrath, Director of Public Relations, Lincoln Park Zoo

                                                                2001 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL  60614

                                                                Phone: (312)742-7925; e-mail:


Steering Committee Task Forces, and Internal Committees:


Animal Welfare Sub-Committee:

Chair:                    Ken Reininger, Curator of Birds, North Carolina Zoo

                                4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC 27203

                                Phone: (336)879-7605; e-mail:


ASAG Meeting Format


ASAG meetings will be scheduled at the AZA National Conference and at one of the AZA Regional Conferences each year.  Open to all registered conference delegates, the purpose of ASAG general meetings is to inform the attendees about activities within ASAG and bring pertinent avian issues to the attention of the membership.  ASAG meetings are intended to be an open forum for all and discussion is encouraged.


The meeting agenda will be set by the ASAG steering committee with input from the general membership.  Speakers may be scheduled to speak on specific issues affecting avian managers, such as USDA regulations.


Agendas will be posted on the ASAG list serve prior to the conferences with a call for input from the membership.


ASAG Workshops

The ASAG hosts annual workshops that address issues that relate to the captive management of chosen taxonomic groups as well as topics that address broader issues that effect the management and display of birds in zoos and aquariums.   The goals of these workshops are:


·         To encourage zoo and aquarium professionals as well as field researchers to share information for the benefit of improving the captive management and conservation goals of chosen taxa.

·         Develop workshops that disseminate information and promote new ideas that benefit the exhibition and management of avian collections.

·         To provide training for avian managers in emerging disciplines and new technology.

·         To use the information gathered in annual workshops to create action items and priorities for the successful enhancement of avian captive management and conservation programs.


Each year ASAG designates an AZA regional to host two workshops as well as avian TAG and SSP meetings. All workshop locations will be chosen in advance to allow the host institution the opportunity to plan effectively.  The ASAG Steering committee will work closely with AZA to identify suitable workshop location sites that meet the needs of the ASAG membership.  The location, ability to host ASAG workshops, and the willingness of the institution to act as host will be taken into consideration.  As soon as locations are chosen the ASAG membership will be notified along with AZA and the host institution.  The choices will be made several years in advance.


Workshop topics will be chosen in advance of the workshop to allow for effective planning and coordination.  Topics will be solicited from the membership for two workshops.  One workshop will be TAG-based and the participating TAG will present the topic.  The second workshop will be focused on issues affecting the avian community.  The ASAG steering committee will review proposed topics and submit a list to the membership for a vote.  ASAG members will chair the individual workshops and will be responsible for soliciting and organizing the presentations.


Workshop fees:  The ASAG Finance Chair will schedule the posting of workshop fees with AZA conference registration materials.  Workshop fees will be set by the ASAG finance committee and approved by the ASAG steering committee.  All workshop fees are used to defray costs for speakers at ASAG workshops and for other steering committee-approved ASAG projects.


ASAG Goals






Appendix A:  ASAG Position Statements


Position statement regarding bird holding and breeding spaces


We recommend that bird collections be structured to

allow at least 30% of the collection to be maintained

in dedicated off-exhibit propagation facilities.


Over the last decade, the total number of mammal and bird species maintained in North American zoological parks has declined, while the diversity of animal classes represented has expanded due to the tremendous surge in new aquarium facilities and, now, insectariums.  As a result, the competition for institutional resources among curators managing the various taxonomic groups of animals has never been so great.


Birds have always been among the most prominently displayed taxa of animals in zoos.  Historically, avian species diversity was dependent on continual importations of wild-caught birds both to bolster existing captive populations and to establish and reestablish species in captivity.  In the early 1980s, greater emphasis was placed on establishing self-sustaining captive populations to reduce the need for importing wild-caught birds for exhibit purposes.  The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 greatly restricted the number of species that were regularly imported from the wild and made the need for managed populations urgent.


An analysis of space survey data published by Christine Sheppard in Zoo Biology 14:197-210 (1995) concluded that in the most optimistic scenario, there is only enough space to manage approximately 141 species of birds under the umbrella of the Species Survival Plan (SSP).  This amounts to only around 1.4% of the world's approximately 9600 species of birds.  Because of this limitation in avian carrying capacity, we must utilize our existing spaces carefully to ensure sustainability of captive bird populations and to ensure maximum conservation impact.  Just as clearly, we will benefit from the addition of bird holding and breeding space.


The short generation time of many bird species presents another challenge for bird managers.  Many species of birds have gone through "boom and bust" cycles in captivity.  A bird species would come into zoos, breed well, and produce surplus young.  Soon all available space for this species would be utilized and managers would be unable to place additional offspring and, as a result, restrict breeding.  The population would then age and reproduction would end.  Eventually the species would no longer have a viable captive population.


Bird managers have recognized these situations for many years and have been working to develop a long-term plan for all bird species.  In April 1997, a number of professional bird managers met prior to the AZA Western Regional to develop a three-year strategic plan for the AZA's Avian Interest Group (AIG), an AZA scientific advisory group.  This included discussion on how to develop the resources necessary for long-term management of avian collections.  This position statement is a result of those discussions.


One of the strategic planning groups determined that acquiring additional space for long-term management of captive avian populations was an important priority for the AIG.  In fact, a stated objective of this group is to promote off-exhibit facilities and programs and market their conservation, education, research, and recreational value.  This committee analyzed successful captive bird management programs and looked for common factors between these programs.  They found that programs with the highest degree of success had dedicated facilities, trained staff, and often managed multiple pairs of the same species.


Currently, the majority of existing bird spaces in most zoos are on public exhibit.  While public bird exhibits can provide excellent breeding environments for certain bird species, dedicated off-exhibit propagation facilities with dedicated staff offer the best opportunity for sustained success in breeding many significant species.  In this environment, birds benefit from the considerable advantages of seclusion, segregation, and the ability to be maintained in single pairs or in single-species groups.  The ability to maintain multiple pairs of the same species provides flexibility in creating compatible pairs of birds and enhances the likelihood of sustained breeding success.  Optimal bird holding and breeding facilities are crucial to meet this need.


The Avian Scientific Advisory Group recommends that bird collections be structured to allow at least 30% of the collection to be maintained in dedicated off-exhibit propagation facilities.  The remaining 70% of the collection should be maintained on public display.


Off-exhibit propagation facilities not only provide optimal husbandry conditions and support for the display collection, but also allow the experimental management of bird species for which there is little husbandry information available.  Hence, the off-exhibit space provides an ideal environment to gain valuable husbandry experience with new species as well as to advance our knowledge of more established species.  This space and knowledge will not only allow for long-term management of current species, but will allow the AZA to be prepared when a crisis occurs and zoos are asked to quickly assist in emergency management situations.


It is important to note that off-exhibit space is much less expensive to build and

maintain than public exhibit space.


To summarize, the development of adequate off-exhibit dedicated breedinn7 space for management of self-sustaining captive populations of avian species is imperative because:

        The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 greatly restricts the number of species imported from the wild.

        In 1995 there was only enough space to provide long-term management of 141 species (1.4% of the world's bird species).

        Many species do not breed reliably on exhibit.

        Failure to provide adequate space for will result in fewer species being maintained in North America and limit the conservation, education, and exhibit opportunities for birds.


To this end, we recommend that:


1)       When possible, institutions should increase the number of spaces available

for bird breeding and holding.


2) Bird collections should be structured to allow at least 30% of the collection to be maintained in dedicated off-exhibit propagation facilities with staff trained in bird management.  The remainder of the collection should be maintained in public exhibit space.


3) When possible, multiple pairs of each species should be maintained.


4) Public exhibit space should be designed to optimize the potential for

successful bird breeding.


1997-1999 Avian Interest Group Strategic Plan

Communications Committee

Ed Diebold, Mary Healy, Jamie Primm,

Tom Schneider, Sherry Branch



Avian Programs:  SSP vs. PMP and Why the Lower Number of SSPs than Mammalian Counterparts

Kim Smith, Curator of Birds

Milwaukee County Zoo

ASAG Chair


The AZA Avian community has been presented with a question by WCMC regarding the number of SSP programs recommended by Avian TAGs compared to those managed by Mammalian TAGs.


All Avian TAGs evaluate programs and recommend a variety of categories based on pre-determined selection criteria.  If a program becomes an SSP it is usually a viable population that has a conservation or reintroduction component.  The SSP model is often used in programs that need the higher level of management an SSP brings.  These programs typically involve species that are charismatic i.e. penguins or have international or political issues where SSP status can be beneficial i.e. Bali Mynah.  Most Avian TAGs use PMPs as the main stay of their managed programs.  Motivated PMP programs can accomplish as much as an SSP.  These programs can operate more efficiently and require less volunteers and man-hours than an SSP managed program. The Avian Scientific Advisory Group (ASAG) was initially formed by Bird Curators to foster cooperation among zoos on a national scale.  In many cases this level of cooperation allows avian managers to achieve SSP equivalent programs with the efficiency of a PMP.


The low population numbers and low reproduction rates of many avian populations can prohibit SSP management, although there are exceptions such as the St. Vincent Amazon parrot.  It is not necessary to implement an SSP to initiate conservation work on a species.  A prime example of this would be the piping plover.  This is an endangered species that does not have a viable captive population and most likely never will.  The conservation component of this species is much higher than it’s captive component.  The Charardriiformes TAG designated this species as a DERP because it is primarily a research population with a high conservation value. In this case, DERP status is both efficient and effective.


Another component of SSP vs PMP programs for Avian TAGs is the number of private breeders that are involved in avian programs.  Many private breeders are not willing to submit to the lengthy SSP non-member process but will cooperate with a PMP.  There are examples of programs that have high non-member participation that are SSPs such as the St. Vincent Amazon parrot.  This program often needs the management of a SSP to enforce pairing recommendations.


The real issue at the heart of the question regarding the number of avian SSPs should be what are we doing to assist conservation efforts.  There should be effective conservation programs in every TAG that address the most pressing issues facing threatened and endangered species in their taxa.  A SSP, PMP or DERP designation should not affect the work being done to conserve a species or manage a captive population.  The real question should be is the work being accomplished effectively and are goals being met. In most cases for recommended species the answer is “Yes”.  ASAG will work closely with its TAGs to evaluate conservation and captive management programs to ensure that goals are being accomplished.