Jeffrey Low

Thursday, December 3, 2009


These pic of Nim was taken today to have a clearer look at his tail length after the 2nd molt. His longest black tail feathers before this molt was measured to be 10.5 inches. They are now estimated to be at least 11.5 inches. The tail feathers of a young white-rumped shama will increase in length after each molt, up to its 4th molt. There must be sufficient protein in its diet to enable the tail feathers to grow to its genetically determined maximum length.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


4 months old Voo still hanging on to his taimong tail feathers.
Voo attempting to pose like the adults.

Jimi Hendrix - voodoo child

Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009


An in-form male white-rumped shama will
instinctively adopt a pose when another male of its kind first appears in sight. This is part of its body language signaling to the rival of its readiness for battle. Posing requires the muscles of its entire body to be tightened. During an impressive pose, the neck is stretched, the head is held high with the beak pointing slightly upwards, the legs are straightened to hold up the pose and the wings tightly folded over its body with the wing tips meeting just beneath the vent to fully expose the raised white rump. The pose is part of the display and may also be observed to occur momentarily in between the movements during the display.

seven and a half months old Funkie, posing

Queen - Body language

Wednesday, October 28, 2009



It's sparrow hawk season again. One of my friends just had a nasty encounter while hanging his bird at the park. They are coming in earlier than usual these days.
I'm always alert to the dangers at the park. Besides sparrow hawks and cats, there are also women preying on good looking bird keepers.

Uriah Heep - Bird of prey   

Monday, October 19, 2009


On several occasions recently, I have came across local advertisements selling the black bellied oriental magpie robins as seychelles magpie robins. I am quite sure that the sellers did not have intentions to mislead but had mistakenly thought that their birds were actually the seychelles magpie robins, the confusion arising from pictures on the internet.

The seychelles magpie robin (copsychus sechellarum) is an endangered species.
Below are some information regarding the seychelles magpie robin.

The seychelles magpie robins are one of the rarest birds on earth and they can only be found on five seychelles islands, namely Fregate, Cousin, Cousine, Aride and Denis. At one time around 1990, there were only 23 birds counted and these were found only on Fregate Island. Habitat destruction and predation from introduced domestic cats were cited amongst the reasons for their decline. They were then classified as "critcally endangered" under the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Animals. In 1990, a recovery programme was launched to save these birds from extinction, initially managed by Birdlife International and Royal Society for Protection of Birds from 1990 to 1997. The management of the programme was passed to Nature Seychelles from 1998 onwards. The recovery programme has been very successful and the seychelles magpie robin was downlisted in 2005, from "critically endangered" to "endangered" under the IUCN's Red List when its population had exceeded 50 adult individuals for more than 5 years. From an official population count in 2006, there were a total of 178 specimens found on the four islands - Fregate, Cousin, Cousine and Aride.

The population on Cousin Island was on a sharp decline since 2005, from 47 birds to just 27 due to competition from the exploding population of moorhens on the island. The seychelles magpie robin population was recently also extended to Denis Island through the translocation of 20 birds taken from Fregate and Cousin.

Although their conservation status has improved since the launch of the recovery programme, the seychelles magpie robin is still one of the rarest birds in the world.

The all-black magpie robin we keep as a songbird here is the black bellied oriental magpie robin (copsychus saularis) and not the seychelles magpie robin.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Most commercial dry food will come in pellet form. Home made dry food will require some effort and time to make them into homogeneous pellets. This is how I would combine food ingredients into homogeneous pellets.


combination of dry ingredients ground to a fine powder

low salt canned sardines rinsed and drained

minced raw lean beef after being wrapped in a towel to soak up excess moisture

raw egg yolks

The first three ingredients are thoroughly mixed together:

Next, the egg yolks are mixed in to form a dough:

This will then be put through a rotary grater, after which they will be cooked and dried at very low temperature in a turbo broiler for several hours.

The final result:

Several hours will be needed at very low temperature to sufficiently cook and dry them. When properly done, these can be kept for several months, just like commercial dry pellets.

It should be noted that the above is just an example of the process involved in making shama pellets at home. The ingredients above are just examples and may not necessary represent an ideal combination.There are reasons for my preference that home made dry food should be in homogeneous pellet form. Offering the birds a combination of various separate dried ingredients without making them into homogeneous pellets will result in the birds picking out only the preferred ingredients and leaving the rest behind. There will also be spillage all over the cage floor and the surrounding area caused by this or by grinding up the various ingredients into a powdery form. Powdery dry food may also cause irritations to the nostrils and eyes. Shamas when given the choice will mostly prefer a pellet form dry food over powdery ones.It is important to bear in mind that when introducing any new ingredients into the dry food, it has to be done gradually. The bird’s digestive system will need time to adjust in order to produce the required amount of the necessary enzymes to cater to the digestion of the new food. For the same reason, the proportion of the various ingredients used in making the dry food should always be consistent from batch to batch. The moisture content of the final product should also be as consistent as possible and inconsistencies should be minimised by using the same amount of cooking and drying time, at the same temperature setting, from batch to batch. It is always a good practice to keep some dry food from the previous batch to be mixed with some of those from a newly made batch when starting on a new batch of dry food. This will allow the birds to adjust more gradually to any slight inconsistency between them. It is not unusual that a change or any inconsistencies in the dry food will trigger a drop in the bird's form and in more severe cases, could even result in a stress molt. Often, they are due to eating insufficiently or the inability of the digestive system to adjust to an abrupt change. 

King Crimson - Cat Food

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009


To me, the most crucial factor affecting the success or failure in bringing out the best from the caged male white-rumped shama has always been the outcome of its annual molt.

A bad molt will almost certainly result in the bird not looking its best. A flawless physical appearance from a good molt on the other hand, is an indication at the least, that all is also well within.

There are other physiological changes that take place besides the renewal of feathers during an annual molt. The natural hormonal transition that takes place within the bird that is coming out of a good molt, will ensure that its form will peak. The rising testosterone level after a good annual molt is a natural occurrence in preparation for the breeding period that follows. A bird that goes through a good molt in the wild will be well prepared, with renewed feathers and vigor to face the challenges thereafter, which will come from competing for a mate and defending its territory. Thus, the annual molt is the underlying factor that determines how well the caged male shama will look and perform for the rest of the year until its next molt is due.

Grand Funk - Inside looking out

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Floyd towards the end of the molt.

A young friend had expressed interest in breeding him and has already been eyeing a couple of hot babes for him.

Goodbye Floyd. Have a good time...there's a whole lotta love awaiting you, over the hills and far away... 

Led Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Love

Monday, September 28, 2009



No neck? No problem man...I've just got to remember
to stretch a little harder.

Funkie's tail is now about 9 inches. There should be another inch or so of growth left. The rate of growth of the pair of longer black tail feathers during the last fortnight was a little slower than usual. I would think that this was partly due to his being too vigorous during this period.

Funkie's transformation from a scruffy looking taimong into a handsome adult white-rumped shama will soon be completed.

Funkie's tail feathers are narrower than my other shamas. My personal preference is for tail feathers of longer tailed birds to be narrower. Long tailed shamas with narrower tail feathers are more willing to 'play the tail' and to carry them higher. This is because during a display, the narrower tail feathers of a long tailed bird will meet with lesser air resistance than broader ones, hence lesser effort will be required.

Friday, September 25, 2009



No I'm not fat!
I've just got a muscular chest....
and if you care to look under the feathers...
you'll also see my six-pack abs!

Nim, my favorite shama is now halfway through his 2nd molt. I would expect his tail length to be close to 11 inches upon completion of the molt. His longest tail feathers were measured to be 10.5 inches when they dropped. Nim has broad tail feathers and I would prefer that they are narrower. Long tail feathers that are also broad will require very much more effort to flick them during a display.

The indications so far are good and he is already starting to display and sing fiercely at times. The spasmodic convulsions that had taken a toll on his form before the molt, apparently did not affect him anymore.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Here is a badly taken pic of Floyd today.

Floyd is also part-way through the molt. He too is starting to be quite vigorous at times and I had taken extra precaution in his case. This is because around this period of his molt last year, he damaged his tail feathers due to vigorous playing. Somehow for him, the tail feathers are quite easily damaged, so as a precaution, he will be kept in a room away from the other birds from now on. So far, all is well and the tail feathers are growing at the rate expected. Floyd has a prawn tail that is already obvious at this stage of its growth.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Funkie is now slightly over 5 months old. He is going through his first molt pretty well so far, except that he is a little too vigorous for this stage of the molt. The tail is now about 7 inches and there should be sufficient time left in the molt to grow another 3 or 4 inches if all goes well with the remaining part of the molt.

"so you wanna see some cage-play huh?"

At this length, the black tail feathers that are still growing, may be easily damaged or broken if the bird ‘plays the cage’ too vigorously. Funkie’s cage is mostly covered during this time but even then, I still often hear him singing and playing vigorously inside. He is especially agitated by my other shamas doing the ‘tak- taks’.

When the feather is growing, there is an artery and a vein running through it for the circulation of blood to support the growth. When there is still blood supply to the feather, it is called a blood feather. When the feather has completed its growth, the blood in the quill will recede and the blood vessels will shrivel up. A broken blood feather can bleed profusely. Pulling out a broken blood feather of the tail can stop the bleeding and a new feather will grow to replace it but sometimes, this may damage the follicle if it is not properly done. Repeatedly pulling out the same tail feather may result in follicle damage to the point when it can no longer grow a replacement. The bleeding can also be stopped by using those ‘stop-bleed’ products or kitchen cornstarch and a little pressure to help the blood to clot. The broken feather will then be replaced at the next molt.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Insects such as crickets, mealworms and roaches are very high in chitin. When captive shamas are given the choice, they tend to pick out softer bodied insects that have lesser chitin, such as white mealworms that had just shed the skin. Although there is insufficient evidence to support my suspicion that the varieties of invertebrates that the shama will consume in the wild are overall much lesser in chitin compared to the insects fed to them in captivity, I am nevertheless quite convinced from many years of observations that the captive shama cannot be at its best when fed with a diet high in chitin or dietary fiber. I often see shamas showing signs of unwell and sometimes quite fluffed up after consuming large amounts of crickets and mealworms. Also, when fed for some time with a diet consisting of large amounts of crickets and mealworms, their appetite may decrease, prompting me to suspect that the large amount of chitin from these insects may cause some degree of impaction of the crop in captive shamas. Apart from my observations, there are also other reasons that led me to believe that a diet consisting of large amounts of chitin and dietary fiber may be quite unsuitable for the captive shama.

1) We do not know for sure whether or not the shama is able to produce chitinase enzymes but the fact that they regurgitate most of the indigestible chitin seems to suggest that chitinase activity is minimal even if it is present in the shama.

2) Unlike the graminivorous birds (grass eating) and folivorous birds (leave eating), the anatomy and physiology of the digestive tracts of insectivores like the shama are more suited to nutrient-compact diets with easily digestible fat and protein, utilizing these nutrients through an autoenzymatic type of digestion (by the enzymes produced from certain organs of the bird). The herbivorous birds on the other hand, have a digestive system relying partly on alloenzymatic digestion (by enzymes of microbial origin or fermentation) through which they are able to utilize the high fiber in their diet. It therefore appears to me that chitin and dietary fiber serves no nutritional purpose in the diet of the captive shama. Until they are regurgitated, large amounts of chitin or indigestible fiber in the crop could cause some degree of impaction which may also affect the appetite, as was often observed by me. They also dilute the nutrients of the diet and could quite possibly interfere with the digestion as well.

Keeping the above in mind, I had for quite some time now, avoided feeding large amounts of insects that are high in chitin. When it comes to feeding insects as part of their daily diet, I now feed crickets only sparingly and I would only use white mealworms. In order to substitute for the animal protein that may be lacking in this diet with very little live food, I have included substantial amounts of lean beef, sardines and eggs in my home-made pellets. Through many years of trials and errors, I have found these three sources of animal protein to be very good for the shama. As far as I know, my home-made pellets are also low in dietary fiber. My shamas rarely regurgitate.

Even during the molt, my birds are fed with very little live food and judging from the feather condition of the tails upon completion of their molt, this diet seems to be sufficient in animal protein. I have often been asked by my bird keeping friends how I had managed to keep my caged shamas in good and tight-feathered conditions most of the time, even during the molt. I would think that this is due to their nutrient-compact diet which is low in chitin, low in indigestible fiber and high in animal protein.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Nim is a captive-bred shama hatched on 27th April 2008. I acquired him when he was only 42 days old. He was bred by a good friend. Nim is a special bird to me for many reasons. For one thing, he revived my interest in bird keeping.

Nim at 2 months of age. He was named after his birthplace, somewhere I called Nimbaktu (between Nimbakone and Nimbakthree).

As it turns out, Nim is not an easy bird to keep.

He didn't go into his first molt until he was about 5 months old. Halfway through his first molt, Nim came down with a respiratory infection and had to be treated. He did not respond well to oral antibiotics and his condition was deteriorating. As a last resort, he was nebulised daily for a week, using a human nebuliser. He recovered fully from the infection and I had thought that the whole ordeal would have affected the molt badly. I had very little hope then that he will be able to come into form after the molt. Suprisingly, his tail was not much affected and he grew a 10.5 inches tail from this first molt, although the edges of 2 black tail feathers were a little frayed from the point during their growth when he was struck with the illness. Even more suprising was the fact that some time later after completion of the molt, he came into form.

Nim was one of the most hardworking singer at home, after that. He was also the most aggressive, to the point that any movements or noises coming from the outside of my home will trigger an aggressive display and set him off singing his territorial songs fiercely, almost acting like a guard dog at times. He also performed satisfactorily on the few occasions when I'd brought him out.

Nim at 9 months old.

All went well for Nim until 3 months ago, when he suddenly went into spasmodic convulsions one evening. He was given a high oral dose of vitamin B complex and recovered from the convulsions but ever since then, he is never the same again. His form dropped drastically and he rarely sings. Two weeks ago, he shed his pair of longest tail feathers and is now into his second molt. Once again, I am keeping my fingers crossed for him.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Funkie is also progressing well with his first molt. He too is singing his subsongs throughout the day and occasionally his loud songs as well.

Soon, this taimong cage will not be able to accommodate his growing tail and he will have to be transferred to a larger one to prevent damage to the tail feathers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


The oriental white-eye (zosterops palpebrosus) is the most kept songbird in Singapore. Singaporean songbird hobbyists have very discerning ears. The most preferred subspecies here is the z. palpebrosus auriventer. This is the subspecies native to the southern Malayan Peninsula. It was also originally the native subspecies of Singapore but the oriental white-eyes found in Singapore these days are feral flocks of various subspecies.

The z. palpebrosus auriventer is most desired because of its clearer and stronger voice. Those from the locality of Kota Tinggi were considered to be the best in voice quality. When these were no more available, supply of this subspecies was taken from other areas in southern Malayan peninsula.

The subspecies z. palpebrosus williamsoni from further up north of the Malayan peninsula is also another subspecies kept by the hobbyists here as well as the z. palpebrosus buxtoni from Indonesia.

There were some occasions when the subspecies z. palpebrosus siamensis from Vietnam were imported into Singapore in 1992 but the importers suffered loses due to their very poor quality of voice. Many were released to join the feral population of white-eyes in Singapore.

Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe


It is now about 5 weeks since Floyd shed his two longest tail feathers. The new tail feathers look good so far and there are no fret marks. He is singing his subsongs throughout the day and occasionally loud songs as well. The molt is progressing well.

Floyd reverts to singing juvenile-like loud songs instead of his usual territorial loud songs during this period. Perhaps the loud songs are more juvenile like because of his low testosterone level during this period and they are not sung to proclaim territory. Perhaps this is also the period he is in the mood to arrange new song materials through his subsongs to make up new songs which he could include into his repertoire later.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

THE ORIENTAL MAGPIE ROBIN (copsychus saularis)

There will always be room in my home for a couple of Oriental Magpie Robins. I never can get tired of them. They are hardworking songbirds, hardy and quite easy to maintain in captivity. They always bring back fond memories of the activities involved with keeping this species during my early years when they were abundant in Singapore. It is nostalgic to see and hear them at plantation fringes and roadsides or to catch glimpses of their familiar flight pattern from a distance, every time I travel up north into West Malaysia.

This is Neil Sedjawa (alias Kopi-O), my black bellied Oriental Magpie Robin. I enjoy his subsongs and semi-loud songs most of all. He is from Java, and belongs to the subspecies c. saularis amoenus. The other 2 subspecies of black bellied oriental magpie robins are c. saularis adamsi and c. saularis pluto from northern and eastern Borneo. In terms of song variety and melody, Neil is superior to my white bellied subspecies from the Malaysian Peninsula, the c. saularis musicus. Sometimes, the white bellied will interbreed with the black bellied. In Java, javensis x amoenus and in Borneo, musicus x adamsi/pluto.

Neil really loves singing to the rain. Rainy days are never gloomy with him around.

Humble Pie - Black Coffee

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


From the more common ailments that affect the captive shamas, I think it is likely that they could have higher requirements for certain vitamins than other softbills that we keep in this region. It could also be likely that the usual shama pellets that we use here are deficient in these vitamins.

Hobbyists that have kept shamas long enough, especially those that own a large number of these birds will know that they can be often affected by infections of the eyes and respiratory tracts. I strongly believe that the primary cause of these is a deficiency in vitamin A. Some shama pellets that we use here are subjected to high heat during the extrusion process and this could destroy most of the vitamins from the food ingredients used in these pellets. Vitamin A is very sensitive to heat and oxidation.

Deficiency in vitamin A often causes infection of the eyes in shamas. In severe cases of deficiency, it can result in a condition known as xerophthalmia. Captive shamas are known to exhibit the characteristic symptoms of this condition with accumulation of fluids and sticky discharge from the affected eye, often causing the eyelids to crust together. A severe deficiency of vitamin A will cause keratinization of the conjunctiva and inadequate lubrication of the cornea, resulting in this condition which can lead to blindness in shamas.

The mucous membranes of the respiratory tract are also frequently first to be affected by a deficiency in vitamin A. Diminished mucous production from a deficiency in vitamin A will result in pathogenic invasions of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, with symptoms of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, clogged nostrils, etc.

A condition known as bumblefoot although not common, can sometimes affect the captive shama as well and the primary cause is also likely to be due to a deficiency in vitamin A, resulting in the infection and inflammation of the balls of the feet.

I always gut load my live feeder insects with carrots and leafy greens which are rich in beta-carotene and I think this is one way of supplying some vitamin A through the diet. Another alternative is to smear feeder insects with red palm oil, one of the richest sources of carotenoids. The enzymatic conversion of dietary carotenoids to vitamin A is regulated according to need of the bird and high consumption of carotenoids does not usually cause toxicity. For so many years, ever since I had started on this regime of ensuring some form of vitamin A is supplied to my caged shamas in these ways, I had only one bird that has succumbed to respiratory infection and it was during the molt when the immune system was much weakened. My molting birds are now further supplemented with multi-vitamins, twice weekly.

Deficiency in the B vitamins can cause lost of appetite, lethargy, hyper-excitability and in more severe cases, convulsions in shamas. B vitamins can be supplied through the pellets by sprinkling and coating them with brewer’s yeast each time the food cup is refreshed, preferably on a daily basis, as prolonged exposure to light will destroy the B-vitamins. De-bittered brewer’s yeast has the bitter taste removed and will be more palatable to the birds. Another way is to smear liquid B-complex vitamins on feeder insects that are to be fed to the birds, on a daily basis. I have already started to practice these, as advised by an experienced shama keeper and so far, although too early to be conclusive, I have not experienced any more convulsions.

Some imported pellets are scientifically formulated and well fortified through a process using the more stable forms of artificially synthesized vitamins, usually at many times the level of what is deemed to be the minimum requirement of our birds. These pellets I would think do not need to be further supplemented during maintenance, if they constitute the major part of the bird’s daily diet.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Like other hobbyists, some of my shamas are quite susceptible to spasmodic convulsions or 'shama fits'. I had learned from my more experienced shama-keeping friend that this can be minimized by supplementing with vitamin B-complex on a daily basis.

My shamas are fed on a diet high in total protein. Their main diet is my home-made dry pellets, made from food ingredients with high protein contents. They are also given some ant eggs and live insects daily and they do well on such a diet, except that this high protein diet and most probably the unbalanced protein in the diet, is the most likely cause of the spasmodic convulsions. I had in the past, experimented with lower protein commercial pellets without live food supplements and such diets do not cause spasmodic convulsions in my shamas. The similar high protein diet that I also feed to other insectivorous birds did not cause them to go into spasmodic convulsions indicating that captive shamas on a diet that is high in protein are more susceptible to this condition.

A high protein diet will require an increase in the level of vitamin B6 dependant enzymes to metabolise the excess amino acids. Sufficient B6 must be present in such a diet otherwise the shama could go into spasmodic convulsions. From experiences, milder symptoms of B6 deficiency include hyper-excitability, such as a tame bird suddenly behaving like a newly wild-caught. This can sometimes precede the spasmodic convulsion.

The classic shama fit will present itself with the bird lying on its side or back, on the cage floor,
unable to be in an upright position. The neck is sometimes fully folded back and touching its back, like a chicken with its throat slit. When touched, it will kick wildly in the air. When held in the hand, it is fully conscious and may even peck at the hand strongly in retaliation. This condition is reversible almost all the time by administering a high oral dose of B6 or B complex. Within half an hour after the oral dose, the bird will be back on its feet and on the perch. The B vitamins are water soluble and except for B12, excesses are excreted. There is very little risk of toxicity from an overdose and a high oral dose of B6 should be given to revive a shama in spasmodic convulsion.

For some unexplainable reasons, quite often our favorite birds are jinxed to be more prone to bad-luck situations, accidents, illness, escapes, etc. One evening sometime ago, I returned home to find my favorite shama having a spasmodic convulsion. I had not replenished my stock of B-complex and the only ones left were already past their expiry date. I pounded one of these tablets into powder and mixed in a little water to form a suspension only to realize that I am also out of syringes. I have to use a straw in the end to administer the vitamin. Fortunately, his luck had not totally run out on him on that day and he recovered from the fit. I am never without supply of B-complex and syringes ever since.

John Mayer - I don't need no doctor 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


When there is a need to supplement with multi-vitamins and minerals, such as during the molt, I use Nutroplex, a liquid supplement marketed for children. It has a sticky consistency like honey and this is ideal for my method of administering the supplement.

This sticky liquid supplement is first smeared onto the base of a small container.

Live feeder insects are placed into the container and after being given a good stir with a spoon, they are then fed to the birds. When used in this way, it is better than powdered supplements which do not stick so well to the live feeders. Also, shamas that stubbornly refuse food spiked with powdered vitamins will readily accept the taste of Nutroplex.

All my molting birds are given this supplement twice weekly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


This is Funkie, my four month old juvenile male shama. He came to me at about a month old from his breeder, my friend David de Souza. He is now entering into the early phase of his first molt. This dull looking youngster will undergo a complete makeover from this first molt, emerging from the transformation wearing the attractive full colors of the adult male white-rumped shama. He looked really ruffled up and untidy at this stage of the molt. This video was taken 9 days ago.

Realizing that his days of being a juvenile are numbered, Punky Funkie engaged the adult males that were around him on this day, with a ‘chickish’ imitation of the fanciful-tail display.

This photo below was taken today for comparison, to see the changes that he had undergone within this short period.

The chest is already starting to take on the rich chestnut color of the adult male shama and the head, neck and back are getting darker by the day with the growth of new feathers. In due time, they will smoothen out and will be silky black and glossy. The two remaining white tail feathers will be gone in a day or two. The primary feathers of the wings will take turns to shed and grow, over the course of the molt. It is expected that his tail will be at least 10 inches long from this first molt and the longer pair of black tail feathers had already appeared. It’s going to be a long while more for the molt to complete.

Meanwhile, before all his energy will be called up to grow that fanciful long tail, Funkie summons up whatever that is left in him to practice a few moves of the adult male, in anticipation of the exciting future that lies ahead

Creedance Clearwater Revival - I put a spell on you


This is Santana rehearsing a few songs before going to roost.

It's been a tiring day for him. Maybe tomorrow he'll be able to hit the big notes. I think he is trying to say he wants a female shama that goes by the name of Black Magic Woman.

Santana - Black Magic Woman

Sunday, July 19, 2009


This is a video of Floyd taken today. He is still energetic at this stage of the molt.

I'll need to have a word with Floyd, that he should conserve his energy to grow the tail. He's got to refrain from showing off, now that there's not much of a tail left.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


This is my shama Floyd. He is currently going through the annual molt. His tail feathers dropped in an orderly pattern and the longer pair of black tail feathers was shed first last week, followed a couple of days later by the shorter pair of black tail feathers. The longest tail feathers measured just slightly below 11 inches. His tail length after the first molt from juvenile was 8.75 inches. This will be his fifth molt and his tail length is not expected to increase anymore.

The longest tail feathers will grow at a rate of approximately 1 inch per week. It will take about 3 months to complete the molt. If all goes well, the form will rise gradually upon completion of the molt and peak at around 2 months or so after the molt.

A healthy shama will molt 3 times during its first 2 years of life and subsequently, once every year. The tail length of a juvenile shama is expected to increase upon completion of each molt, up to the fourth molt. The final tail length is determined by its genes responsible for this physical trait. Proper feeding and care must be provided for the tail feathers to grow to the maximum of its genetically determined limit.

A matured shama that is not fed and cared for properly may end up with a shorter tail upon completion of the annual molt. With proper care and feeding, the tail may still be able to regain its former length at its next annual molt.

Stress, incorrect feeding, an abrupt change of diet and illness can trigger a molt before it is due. When this happens, the tail length may not grow to its full potential upon completion of the stress molt. At the end of a stress molt, the form may or may not be able to peak, depending on how badly it was affected by the stress or illness that had triggered the molt and whether or not it has recovered in time.

Floyd seems to be doing alright so far. He is never bored living in a cage. He enjoys listening to music during his spare time when he is not singing.

Monday, July 13, 2009


A basic understanding of nutrition, some research into the nutrient contents of the natural food of an insectivorous bird and information regarding the shama’s special needs in captivity, should form the basis of the novice hobbyist’s thoughts when it comes to what should be a suitable captive diet. The following are some of my thoughts related to the feeding of the captive shama.

1) Being an insectivore does not mean that the captive shama will thrive on a diet consisting of a limited variety of commercially farmed insects. The superficial summary from the journal of the occasional wild bird watcher of this species that it feeds on insects and small invertebrates, gives little indication of the wide variety of live food that is available in its wild habitat. The complexity of its natural instinct to pick out the suitable food from the wide variety available in the wild, for its nutritional needs at various stages of its life, must be far greater than can be catered for by simply supplying the captive shama with a limited variety of commercially farmed insects. Each of the different types of live food that it consumes in the wild will provide certain nutrients to make up for the total supply to cater for its overall nutritional needs. These cannot be replaced by merely providing commercially farmed crickets and mealworms as its main diet in captivity.

2) It is impossible to emulate the wild diet of the shama in captivity due to the lack of variety of live food available to the hobbyist and due to the lack of a complete understanding of its dietary habits. It is also incorrect to assume that the needs of the captive shama are the same as those of its wild cousins.

3) Avian literatures may sometimes refer to captive birds that are able to come into breeding condition as being in the best of condition. Apparently, inducing some species of insectivorous birds into breeding condition can be easily achieved by providing an all live food feeding regime, even if the variety of live food provided is limited. However, this does not necessarily indicate that the caged shama will be at its best in terms of health or performance when fed this way on a long termed basis.

4) A dry food formulated close to the nutritional needs of an insectivorous bird to be used as the main part of the diet, would be the best way to cater to its nutritional requirements in captivity. The ingredients that constitute the dry food will most probably be unnatural and foreign to the shama’s digestive system. Therefore, consideration has to be made as to whether the bird’s digestive system is able to accustom well to the dry food provided, so as to be able to break it down to assimilate the nutrients. A dry food that is made from ingredients that contain all the needed nutrients is useless if these ingredients are incompatible with the digestive system of the bird. Also, uneaten food cannot serve its purpose, hence the dry food has to be palatable to the bird as well. A suitable dry food in combination with some live food has been shown to be a good method of feeding our caged shamas.

5) There will always be some birds that can do extremely well on a particular diet while a few others just simply will not be able to thrive on this same diet. Being observant to how well the bird responds to its diet in order to make the right adjustments, may just be the key for success to bring out its best.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Wild shamas from different localities will have different song types or vocal dialects. Although they are able to learn new songs throughout most of their captive lives, adult wild-caught males will still have a strong tendency to sing more of the types of songs that originate from their localities.

Male shamas chicks that are taken from the wild when they are too young, such as nestlings, will be lacking in the vocal dialects of their localities when they mature later on. If these young chicks are kept without tutors in the early weeks, they will also be limited in their variety of songs when they mature. In comparison, juveniles taken from the wild at a much older stage are capable of producing the vocal dialects of their localities later as adults and very young chicks that are taken from the wild but are well exposed to tutors during their first few weeks, tend to mature with more varied songs than those kept without tutors. This serves to confirm the theory that there is a crucial learning period in the early weeks of their lives when the male shama chicks will store songs they heard into their brains. The songs of their male parents and other neighbouring males as well as certain sounds from their natural environments will constitute their vocal dialects.

Hobbyists from different parts of Asia have different preferences when it comes to the different song qualities of the white-rumped shamas. In some places, emphasis is placed on the melodic quality of the songs and in other places, variety of songs and not necessarily the melodic quality, is preferred. Some hobbyists will nurture their birds from a young age by minimizing undesirable sounds in their environments and exposing them more to the preferred kind of vocal qualities. In other areas where the preference is towards variety, the ability to mimic sounds of other animals or the natural sounds of the forest is greatly valued. In any case, the ability of the male white-rumped shama to expand its repertoire through learning new songs from others of the same species as well as from other species is quite well known amongst hobbyists.

Although they are quite capable of copying the songs of other species of birds, often, the copied songs may be different in tonal qualities from that of the source. They are also capable of mimicking certain mechanical sounds from their surroundings, such as the sounds of sirens and car alarms but it seems that these mimicries of mechanical sounds are mostly heard only during the renditions of their subsongs and are not incorporated into their loud territorial songs.

The syrinx is the vocal organ of the bird. It consists of two parts located at the lower end of the trachea and has highly elastic membranes. The muscles of the syrinx controls the tension exerted on the membranes by the air from the lungs and by adjusting the pressure of the air and the tension on the membranes, birds are able to control the loudness and pitch of the sounds emitted from the syrinx. In highly developed passerines, it has been shown that the two sides of the syrinx can operate independently and can produce two separate tones simultaneously. Some male white-rumped shamas from certain areas are known to be able to do this by sometimes producing a two-toned voice simultaneously.

Friday, July 3, 2009


The white-rumped shama (copsychus malabaricus) is a songbird native to many parts of Asia and most well known for its melodious repertoire. Its vocal ability is however, only one of the reasons for its popularity as a cage bird in Asia.

In the wild, the territorial male white-rumped shama is naturally aggressive towards other males of the same species. Through its territorial songs serving as a verbal warning to intruders, it constantly announces its presence and dominance within its territorial boundaries. It is also always ready to put on a performance to express its aggression and display its physical attributes. These performances are the most powerful and spectacular form of the avian body language.

The male shama's very varied and melodious songs together with its natural ability to captivate with its displays, easily made it to be one of the most desirable songbirds to the hobbyists of this region. A gathering of individually caged male shamas, singing their territorial songs and displaying their physical attributes with purposeful and exaggerated arrogance to intimidate one another, is an awesome sight to behold. Watching a handsome specimen posing on the perch, whipping its long and soft tail feathers tirelessly, turning on the perch and moving around the cage arrogantly, one cannot help but be mesmerized by such a showy performance. The accompanying melodious vocal notes, synchronized to each movement of the display, are delivered with force and with a strong hint of aggression meant to provoke its competitors. Such is the charisma that exudes from a handsome specimen of the white-rumped shama that most other species of songbirds in captivity will pale in comparison.

Uriah Heep - The dance


An in-form male shama in the wild sends out powerful signals of its physical well being to both rival males and potential mates. Apart from doing this vocally, the male shama also uses body language extensively, in the form of displays. In captivity, this natural behavior is even more impressive to the hobbyist when the bird also possesses certain qualities in its physical structure and has the ability to carry them well.

THE HEAD: A large enough head will give the impression of masculinity and will add emphasis to a well defined neck. A male shama in action always poses itself with the head held high, making it looking like the most powerful piece of its weaponry to the rivals. An impressive head is one that always looks large and almost wedge-shaped, broad at the back and tapering towards the beak. A top skull that looks flat is a very desirable feature of the head. Eyes that are set high on the sides will accentuate the look of aggression.

THE NECK: A good neck must have sufficient length.
When the male shama goes into action, it tightens the muscles of its entire body. In this physical state, the curves running down a neck that has sufficient length will be clearly defined. As it poses and displays to the other rival males, having a well defined neck of sufficient length will result in the most impressive pose. It resembles a ferocious serpent raising its head out of its coil and curling backwards, ready to execute a strike.

During a display, the slight jerky motion of the head on an outstretched neck, often referred to by hobbyists as "playing the cobra head", is a very impressive and much desired form of the bird's body language. "Playing the cobra head" is best exemplified when performed by a bird that possesses a good sized head, a flat-looking top skull and a well defined neck.

THE LEGS: When the male shama poses in the presence of other rival males, it is to impress on them that he is physically ready for battle. A strong pair of legs that can carry the posture well will send out an image of a bird that is standing tall as well as the message that it is strong, courageous and full of confidence. A good pair of legs will appear to be long as it straightens up to hold the pose.

THE TAIL: The white-rumped shama is known in many parts of Asia as the 'long tailed bird’. Male shamas in the wild have tail feathers measuring from around 6 inches to well over 12 inches, although the latter is becoming very rare these days.

An impressive and desirable tail will exceed 10 inches in length and is flawless, soft and curved. The black feathers of the graduated tail should be free of fret marks and each pair should be even in length.

A greater difference in length between the longer pair and the shorter pair of black feathers will contribute to a softer look of the tail. The term 'thin feathers' is used to describe a finer texture of the feathers and tail feathers that are 'thin' will also contribute to an overall softer tail. The term ‘prawn tailed’ is often used to describe a bird that possesses the much preferred tail which is curved like the body of a prawn.

The pair of longer black tail feathers should preferably overlap partially throughout their entire lengths and the shorter pair of black feathers that is below them should preferably be slightly apart towards the tips, like an inverted 'V', with the overlapped pair of longer feathers sitting on the centre and extending out of the 'V'. The term 'scissor-tailed' is used to describe the possession of a faulty tail that has the 2 longer black tail feathers being wide apart.

A longer and softer tail is far more impressive during a display as it swishes in the air like a whip. A display using the tail is most spectacular when it comes in sets of multiple flicks, with the last flick of each set reaching the highest and almost touching the top skull.