Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Ashram in Mysuru could easily boast of the largest Twitter account in the district, in the real sense of the word, as it hosts around 2,200 birds, all from the parrot family.
The cacophony of chirping birds is at its best in the mornings and can be heard from afar when the macaws, parakeets, lorikeets and cockatoos, in a riot of colours, herald the dawn with their coos, caws and croaks. This ashram has an aviary, Shuka Vana, which houses birds from various parts of the world and cares for the injured ones.
Aviary in ashram
This ashram has been attracting a stream of visitors, mainly nature lovers and school kids, in the recent years. Spread over 35 acres, it has been hosting around hundreds of species of these colourful birds in a 60-foot-high aviary made of a meshed enclosure, allowing flight for these exotic birds. The aviary was conceived a few years ago when someone brought a pair of injured macaws to Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swami, the founder pontiff of the ashram.
A nature enthusiast, he designated some space in his ashram to care for these injured birds. Soon, devotees of the ashram from around the world began to gift exotic birds. The numbers grew to hundreds and within no time the aviary had over 2,000 of them.
The aviary was named Shuka Vana, which translates into parrot park in Kannada. Parrots are mostly found in temperate regions of the world. India has only a few species of parrots, the larger and more colourful ones are found in Latin America and the Australasian region. They generally have a lifespan ranging from 25-50 years. However, the Major Mitchell's cockatoo could survive up to 75 years. They have a salmon-pink plumage and are from Australia. The aviary has a pair of these.
It also has a pair of military macaws that grow up to 70 cm. The scarlet macaw is, however, the cynosure of all eyes in the ashram. Sporting bright red, blue and yellow colours, the bird could measure up to 90 cm, a major portion of it being the tail.
Bird-keepers point out that the Congo African grey parrots are the most intelligent among the birds in the ashram. With a walnut sized brain, they can mimic the human voice or other sounds instantaneously. Gifted with a long and stout beak, channel-billed toucans could measure up to 48 cm, a fourth of it being the beak itself. One of these birds in the aviary is currently under veterinary care.
Protecting the birds
The blue-winged macaws, which are known to live up to 50 years, are black-billed and have a red or yellow-feathered underside. They are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species. And, the galah cockatoo, gifted by an Australian visitor is an extremely friendly bird. The bird-keeper informs that they can live up to 70 years in the captivity with the provision of a good diet.
A few palm cockatoos too regale the visitors with their fan palm plumage and strong beak that can break thick sticks from live trees and splice them into thin strands to line its nest. They can even split palm fruits. The bird, which can weigh up to 1,200 grams, is said to be the largest bird of Australia. Besides those in the cages, a few sit in the central pavilion for a photo opportunity for bird lovers and visitors.
The aviary was mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records last year for hosting such a large number and variety of birds. The rehabilitation centre of the aviary generally has 30-40 of these birds under care. According to Dr Dasari Srilakshmi, the veterinarian at the unit, new birds are quarantined upon arrival for a few weeks to get them used to the new place.
The unit has a few blind birds which are cared for. Feather-picking birds are also treated here, by fitting a small plastic disk to their necks. Thereby, preventing their beaks from reaching the feathers. The facility is equipped with an X-ray machine, diagnostic and DNA lab and other equipment that an ideal vet-care unit would require. It also has an isolation room for birds with infectious ailments.
For food, the birds in the aviary are treated with a sumptuous spread of nuts, fruits, berries and sweet corn. These birds are also released from their cages for a designated period for some flying and exercise during the day. Curiously, most of them return to their cages by themselves. The ones found to have lost their way, are led back to their perches by the staff.
The fact that one gets to see the bewildering diversity of parrots in one place, triggers the spirit of exploring nature among young visitors. No wonder, the aviary has emerged as an education centre for students and nature enthusiasts.