She might be featherless and flightless, but that hasn’t stopped Rhea the lovebird from capturing the hearts of tens of thousands of people.
A Bostonian recently adopted the 2-year-old bird with Psittacine beak and feather disease, a rare illness that currently only affects Rhea’s feathers, but also could eventually target the bird’s claws and beak as well.
Not like that stops the “naked” bird from exuding a larger-than-life personality.
Despite only being up for five weeks, an Instagram account devoted to Rhea has amassed more than 60,000 followers.
The main attraction? Videos of Rhea’s bright chirping and energetic outings, coupled with quirky photos — from her cuddled up in a newborn baby’s sock to donning a Donald Trump-esque wig.
“She hates her cage, but she loves hanging out,” 23-year-old owner Isabella Eisenmann said. “She’s always running around the house, or on my shoulder or next to me. She’s not like a regular bird.”
Eisenmann said she launched the Instagram account after she saw some success from her Yorkie, Nickie’s, account, and after other people insisted upon it.
At first, she fielded hateful comments about Rhea’s unusual appearance.
“People would say things like, ‘Kill her,’ or ‘She’s disgusting,’” Eisenmann said. “I was worried it would turn into something negative, but I let it go and continued posting stuff.”
Two weeks later, a video of Rhea chirping next to a bright yellow flower was picked up by The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation, a verified account that has more than 5 million followers.
“It went crazy after that,” Eisenmann said. “Everyone reposted the video and it went viral for two days. It was pretty cool.”
Shortly after, Eisenmann said she started receiving messages from people all around the world.
“People are always asking me about making her something to keep her warm and sending me sweaters for her,” Eisenmann said. “People were asking where they could adopt a bird like her. But we don’t want birds with the disease!”
According to Eisenmann, the illness means that the 1-inch-wide Rhea is perpetually cold, and has to be kept in warm temperatures or swaddled in fuzzy socks.
“She gets cold all the time. My house is ridiculously hot all day,” Eisenmann said. “At night, I cover her with a thick blanket so I can at least sleep.”
Rhea doesn’t receive any special medications or treatments for the disease, other than yearly blood work.
The disease is also highly contagious among birds, so Rhea can’t go near any other avian creatures. However, being around her dog, Nickie, is just fine, Eisenmann said.
She said that Rhea and Nickie squabble a bit for Eisenmann’s attention, but otherwise, the two coexist well together.
And, after all, it’s because of Nickie that Eisenmann found out about Rhea in the first place. The veterinarian in the Back Bay that Eisenmann takes her Yorkie to posted a Facebook plea for Rhea’s adoption in July.
“I’m a huge animal lover,” the 23-year-old graphic designer said. “I knew I could help her.”
After being placed on a wait list for a short while, Eisenmann eventually got the call with the good news: she was picked to give Rhea a new home.
“At the beginning, she didn’t let me touch her; she would just go on my finger or shoulder,” she said. “Now she loves me and cuddles with me, or will go into my jacket or pockets.”
For Eisenmann, she’s just happy that others are falling in love with Rhea as much as she did.
“When I saw her, I just fell for her,” she said. “I knew she was special.”