Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Feathered housemates

Although “location, location, location” is the magic formula and number one rule in real estate, an extra is always welcome.

The garden, pool and aviaries, on top of the location, immediately had me sold on the home I now rent in Dubai. Having a friendly landlord and his convivial family is the icing on the cake.

When I arrived from London four years ago, I was already missing my pet budgie and the sight of three aviaries in the garden of my new Dubai home was a boon.

I have often written that it’s hard to wake up on the wrong side of the bed when the first you hear is the chirping and tweeting of all kinds of birds. For we now have two aviaries jam-packed with lovebirds and a third housing white doves.

Breeding lovebirds, and now white doves, is my landlord’s hobby. While wondering around the garden with him earlier this week, Shehab Habib said he could not remember when his love for birds started. “Maybe it is through one of my uncles, who breeds them,” he said. He chose lovebirds because he admires their colors, enjoys their chirping and singing as well as their joie de vivre.

Mr. Habib started out with eight lovebirds and now has more than 60. The colors were random at first, until he paired those he appreciated most and were favored by buyers, like the Red-Faced lovebird. He says these are the favorites, followed by the green and yellow and bright yellow variety. Lovebirds are so named because when kept in pairs they will constantly groom one another and sit as close together as possible when sleeping or resting. They are playful, inquisitive and an ideal pet, especially when hand-raised.

Lovebirds, or Agapornis, were a largely unheard of species outside Africa until Europeans wrote about these strange brightly colored birds they had seen while on that continent. The first Lovebird to be described in detail was the Red-Face in early 1600. It was also the first to be imported into Europe during the 19th century since it was found more commonly in the wild than any of the other species. It is hard to tell the male from the female lovebird, and Mr. Habib says the pairing is often haphazard and can result in some astounding colors. But he now has an eye for telling them apart.

Our garden lovebirds are chirpy, especially at dawn and at dusk. They weren’t too scared when I went into their homes to take pictures and settled after a while and ignored me. The nesting boxes had baby birds, but I didn’t want to disturb them.

It seems they are sought-after Christmas presents and I hope those who offer them realize that a pet is for life and not just for Christmas week. Mr. Habib says the cheapest place to buy them is in Sharjah, where a pair is sold for about AED 250 ($ 68). On Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road, however, a pair can leave you AED 800 ($ 217.80) out-of-pocket.

The white doves are a more recent addition to the garden. Mr. Habib secured them from his uncle. We now have three pairs and two young ones, called “squabs.” Doves lay two eggs that hatch after about 14 days. Both sexes incubate them and have a nutritious milk to feed to the young who stay in the nest for nearly four weeks.

I am now monitoring their growth and looking forward to watching them fly around the aviary. And the family grows with two other squabs on the way. Although these doves are a special meaty variety coveted as a delicacy by restaurants and individuals, none of ours have been sold for that purpose so far.

The white dove, with an olive branch in its beak, is a symbol of peace and love. Genesis recounts how Noah let a white dove out from the Ark to see if there was any land left after the Flood. The dove came back with an olive branch. When he released it seven days later, the dove did not return, proving to Noah that it had nested. Soon after, Noah and the rest of the animals touched land.

Both the lovebirds and the white doves tolerate the Dubai harsh and long summers and are thriving in Mr. Habib’s care as you can see from the pictures here.

Joumana and Dragi
[This post is dedicated to Dragi, a parrot I befriended on Twitter and who left us earlier this month. I know how hard it is for his owner, Joumana Medlej (@cedarseed), from my own experience with losing my budgie. Joumana, a comic author, illustrator, writer, photographer, globetrotter, martial artist and graphic designer, was chronicling her days with Dragi and I look forward to the "Dragi and Me" comic book. You can meet Dragi at “The Wild Garden” here and view Joumana’s website portfolio here.]