By Shradha Chettri
New Delhi: The 1960s movie “Mary Poppins” immortalised it with “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag” but beware – what 42-year-old Balwant Singh and many do-gooders in the capital and elsewhere practice every morning – feeding pigeons grain – could lead to compromising their health and hygiene of the surrounding area.
Feeding birds is slowly turning into a new fad in the city. Be it the space under flyovers, or the path for pedestrians and even roads – they have become places for people to throw food. Besides dirtying the place, the flocks of flapping pigeons can cause nuisance and most importantly, pose health concerns.
“The exposure to accumulations of pigeon droppings can cause an allergic reaction called the ‘Bird Fancier’s disease’ – an acute respiratory infection affecting the lungs of an individual,” Vivek Nangia, respiratory medicine hed at Fortis Healthcare, told IANS.
The disease is characterised by dry cough, breathlessness and fatigue and could also lead to fever.
“Diagnosing the problem becomes very difficult. Such symptoms of dry cough and breathlessness are often attributed to asthma, but if there is an exposure to pigeon droppings then the patients should mention it,” added Nangia.
But for Balwant Singh and few others that IANS spoke to, it was an act done in good faith.
“I have been coming here for a long time now and it has become a habit,” Singh, who feeds the birds every morning on the road leading to Greater Kailash II in south Delhi, said.
Savita Gupta, in her late 30s said: “Goodwill is one thing, but I like to watch the birds feeding and rarely do we get to see such gatherings.”
Manav Manchanda, respiratory medicine expert at Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, warned that caution should be exercised while feeding pigeons as sometimes the infection from droppings can turn as severe as pneumonia.
People can also get fungal infections like Histoplasmosis and Cryptoccosis that spreads from old and dry droppings.
“Histoplasmosis is transmitted to humans by airborne fungus spores from soil contaminated by pigeon and starling droppings. While cryptoccosis is typically found in accumulations of droppings around roosting and nesting sites,” he said.
Doctors advise that the droppings should be cleaned immediately. It is also highly recommended that people cleaning it should take preventive measures and the droppings should be collected in garbage bags and disposed.
“People with weak immune system are more prone to get affected by infections from the birds. So they should wear masks and moisten the droppings with a light mist of water to keep spores from becoming airborne and keep them wet,” Manchanda said.
Like the feeders, the sweepers who clean these roads are equally ignorant about the adverse effects so no preventive measures are taken.
“The area around our house becomes dirty with foul smell because of the droppings, not to speak of plastic litter,” Deba Sahoo, a PR professional told IANS. He lives near one such feeding place in Jhandewalan.
Besides the effect on human health and environment, bird experts claim that such feedings disturb the bird ecosystem.
“These are unnatural feeding points which disturb the bird ecosystem,” Gopi Sundar, ornithologist and director, International Crane Foundation, told IANS.
Delhi largely has blue rock pigeons with a small population of sparrows and mynas.
The lack of study on the effect of bird feeding is largely attributed to ignorance among the people, but experts claim the issue has to be taken seriously at the earliest.
“Infections can also spread between birds, through the food and close contact with infected birds,” added Sundar.
Animal welfare experts stress on becoming responsible feeders to protect other animals too.
“The food that people give to the birds is also eaten by other animals that share the urban space. Hence they could also be eating the faeces of the birds which is detrimental for their health,” Jaya Simha, managing director, Humane Society International (HSI), told IANS.
“If people want to feed they should provide small feeders at home in their balcony and terrace,” adds Simha.