Jeffrey Low

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.