Jeffrey Low

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.