During the Covid-19 lockdown, a UAE resident decided to get four birds for company. Today, he has built himself an aviary of more than 150 birds with some being the rarest in the world worth over Dh70,000 each. He has also established himself as an exotic bird breeder in the UAE.
Akbar Khan Qureshi, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and keen animal lover, spends approximately Dh3000 per month on the birds. During breeding season, it could go up to Dh5000. However, he did not set out to be a bird expert. “In fact, the first four birds that I got from the market died within the first ten days,” he said. “I was heartbroken. After a few weeks I decided to try again by buying from reputed breeders.”
Akbar then bought 12 new birds, but it was the meeting with one of the most reputed exotic bird breeders- Dubai-based Mohammad Mustafa Khan Hamdam- that changed Akbar’s attitude towards the art of bird breeding. “He told me the potential of the birds and that got me hooked on to it,” he said.
His aviary includes White Bellied Caquies, Sunconure and Monks but the most prized possessions are his two three-year-old Blue Alexandrine birds that are currently priced at Dh70,000 each. “I am only one of two bird breeders in the country to have these birds in the blue color,” he said. “Also, the imports of Alexandrines have been banned this year. So, the demand is high. There are people who have already booked the chicks of these birds for Dh35,000.”
Raising healthy and happy birds is of utmost important to Akbar. Located in the Sharjah industrial area, his aviary is spread over a 1000 sq ft and is completely air-conditioned with air purifier monitoring 24/7 Birds are categorized according to their sizes, breeds and temperaments.
“The cages I have for them is double the size of what is technically required of them,” he said. “Having more space keeps the birds happy and healthy.”
What’s more Akbar removes breeding boxes after every breeding season for four months and does not use any chemicals to clean it. “I leave the cages out for four months in the heat,” he said. “That is enough to remove any bacteria or impurities on it. Cleanliness is the most important thing when breeding healthy birds. I clean the aviary at least two times a day to remove food droppings and other remains.” and does not use any chemicals to clean it. “I leave the cages out for three months in the heat,” he said. “That is enough to remove any bacteria or impurities on it. Cleanliness is the most important thing when breeding healthy birds. I clean the aviary at least two times a day to remove food droppings and other remains.”
The birds have a varied diet that includes fresh fruits- watermelon, apples, guavas and berries- as well as pulses, corn, coriander leaves and mint. Their feed is supplemented with pellets for nutrition.
For Akbar, raising birds is important for another reason. “I have noticed that being with the birds and caring for them has had a significant impact on my health,” he said. “I used to have hypertension but since beginning the aviary, this has been very controlled.”
A father of four, Akbar said that his family is a firm supporter of his hobby. “My wife has a keen interest in it,” he said. “And my kids love the birds. They have their own pet names for many of them.”
According to Akbar, exotic breeding is a long-term hobby that involves planning of up to 12 years. “The bird matures at 3 to 6 years,” he said. “So, if I want a certain colour mutation and the first chick comes out in 2023, then the first breeding happens in 2026. If the probability works in my favour and the first clutch gives me the colour I want, then those chicks will be born in 2029. If not, then it could take longer.”
Akbar says that now more people taking up the hobby in the UAE. “A lot of people are getting into exotic bird raising and bird collection,” he said. “I have been getting a lot of calls especially for Alexandrines. There are probably 25 genuine high quality breeders of these birds in the world and just a few in the UAE so there is a lot of demand.”
Born and raised in the UAE, this is not the first time that Akbar has been involved in something related to animals. After noticing the dwindling number of cattle reared by families in his hometown of Rajasthan, he set up a goat farm there. Apart from raising animals, it also gave free classes to local farmers on how to raise cattle.