BENGALURU: A bizarre combination of loneliness, space shortage and the sheer gorgeousness of exotic avians has resulted in a new epidemic bird depression.
Other than mental illness, these birds are also being diagnosed with human lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
A growing number of people are adopting exotic birds as pets, preferring them to dogs and cats because they are easier to manage in small flats.
The popular choices are African grey parrots (average cost Rs 40,000), Australian cockatoos, South American macaws (both for around Rs 1 lakh)--all known for their incredible colours and their ability to chatter. But many of these birds are ending up with human-like medical conditions. Avian vets have ramped up their clinics to include equipment such as bird ICU --specially designed temperature-controlled intensive care units for these fine feathered creatures.
"People find that birds are easier to keep," says Dr Shiwani Tandel, an avian vet, adding that rich lonely people also find it comforting because the bird can talk. Exotic birds live up to 60 and 70 years, so they become life-long companions. They have the intelligence of a four to six-year old toddler, and they can recognize and respond to people. I used to clip the nails and trim the wings of this African grey. Whenever I entered the house he would chime, 'naughty girl, go away!' so he knew exactly who I was," says Dr Tandel.
Catering to these bird-lovers is an enormous number of bird breeders all over the country, who keep hundreds, even thousands, of birds in their aviaries and farmhouses, says Dr Tandel, whose avian training took her to the Dubai Falcon Hospital, where she witnessed bird obsession on another level.
Since these birds are bred in captivity, they have never experienced "normal" birdie activities such as foraging for food or soaring into the open skies. If they were to be left outside, they would scarcely cope, and would probably die. Considering that they get their food in captivity, they don't need to expend any energy. Sheer boredom and a lack of activity often leads to depression.
Vets say a happy bird will clean and preen its feathers. But when a bird is depressed or lonely or bored or sexually deprived, it takes to obsessive self-preening, plucking its own feathers and causing itself pain to get some adrenalin rush--much like a depressed self-destructive human might behave.
There are various ways in which the depressed birds are treated. Since these birds are intelligent, and need a lot of attention, owners are advised to spend more time with them or find other ways to stimulate them, by leaving the television or radio on or keeping mirrors inside the cage. There are special toys and puzzles to help the bird cope. Homeo pathy is supposed to work very well. "If it is a very complex case, then you have to use mood-elevating drugs," says avian vet Dr Henna Ganjwala.
Christopher Liang, a bird enthusiast and breeder, says, "In the end, whatever pet you keep, remember It's a life, and it is a life in your hands."