Jeffrey Low

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Unlike parrots, shamas do not indulge in feather pulling out of boredom.

Feather pulling is sometimes attributed to 'heatiness' due to feeding of mealworms but I also do not believe that this is so. I had come across many occasions when the owners had stopped feeding mealworms to their birds that were having this problem but the feather pulling did not cease. On several occasions, I had observed that the birds exhibiting this behaviour were also fed mostly on a low protein, grain based dry food with very few mealworms as part of the diet. I would think that if diet has anything to do with this behavior, a diet which is too low in protein will be more likely to trigger this than one that provides a substantial amount of protein from the mealworms. Feathers are made of keratin, a type of protein. Although it may sound remote, there may be a possibility that a diet too low in protein may drive the instinct to seek out an alternative source for this nutrient, resulting in the bird pecking at its own feathers, especially the soft down feathers.

Lack of humidity is very often the cause of shamas pulling out down feathers, usually those near to and above the thighs. Moving the bird to an area of the house that has sufficient humidity will often solve this problem. Spraying the bird lightly during bath time will help in some cases.

The cage that is placed in an area of the house that do not have sufficient light during the day could also sometimes trigger this behaviour of feather pulling. Exposing captive shamas to prolonged lighting during the night such as bright ceiling lights being turned on late into the night is equally unnatural and may also result in abnormal hormonal changes which may bring about the onset of a premature molt or cause feather pulling of the down feathers.

Not all shamas are suitable to be kept as captive birds. Some male birds will respond violently during an acute rush of testosterone such as during a chai session, setting off a self destructive behaviour of tugging and pulling at their own wing and tail feathers. Once started, this habit of attacking its own feathers will usually recur each time the bird is into confrontation mode.

 Feather pulling in captive shamas may also be due to bacterial, fungal, viral or parasitic causes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


With long tailed shamas, many things can go wrong during the growth of the pair of longest tail feathers:

1) Fret lines indicate insufficient intake of food during the period they were formed (this can also happen to short tailed birds).

2) Wavy tail feathers are caused by an improper diet (this can also happen to short tailed birds).

3) A scissors tail is usually caused by the shorter tail feathers coming in between the pair of longest tail feathers during the growing out period, causing the latter pair to be forced apart and altering the direction of their growth. This may sometimes be the result of vigorous tail play during the molt when the tail feathers are not yet fully grown. This condition is not seen on shamas in the wild. I have also suspected that a lack of humidity in the surrounding area during the molt may have also contributed to this condition in captivity. A cage that is too small can also contribute to this.

4) One or both of the longest tail feathers can sometimes grow out in an abnormal way. The entire feather is turned about 90 degrees with one edge of the affected feather facing upwards and the other facing downwards. The reason for this is unclear. Improper diet, follicle mites and lack of sufficient humidity could all be among the possible causes for this abnormal growth of the tail feathers.

5) One of the longest tail feathers may sometimes be permanently absent. This is sometimes caused by repeatedly pulling out the feather causing permanent follicle damage resulting in the feather being unable to be replaced.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The satisfaction and pride of being able to own a beautiful long tailed specimen of the white-rumped shama comes with a price which is much more than just spending the money for that beautiful specimen. Money alone can only buy short-lived satisfaction if one is not prepared to also spend the time and effort to maintain the beauty of such a specimen.

Long-tailed shamas are not as easy to come by nor are they as easy to care for like the short-tailed specimens. Many things can go wrong with the tail feathers of a long-tailed specimen, sometimes during the molt which will result in an imperfect tail for the rest of the year. At other times when follicle injuries occured or are inflicted, the results may often be irrevisible, rendering a beautiful specimen to be permanently flawed.

The aesthetic quality of the entire tail of a long-tailed specimen rest mostly on one pair of tail feathers, the longest black pair. The length, the softness and the way this pair of feathers curves will, to a greater extent than any of the bird's other physical attributes, define its overall beauty. The flaws of the entire tail if there are any, will also mostly be found on or be seen through this pair of feathers. For these reasons, the owner of a long-tailed specimen should spare no effort to maximize their growth potential while minimizing the chances of any imperfection in their development and growth during each and every molt and to provide for the best possible care afterwards, to maintain the fullness of their vanes and the softness of their shafts until the next molt is due.

Pics of Nim (left) and Funkie. Both pics were taken soon after they had completed their 1st molts, showing satisfactory results in achieving the maximization of the growth of their long tail feathers. I would think that their flawless tail feathers upon completion of the molt were also the result of the efforts put into the proper care and feeding throughout the period of the molt.

With continuous efforts, the lengths of their long tail feathers had since increased with each subsequently molt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


3 year old Santana with tail length of 12+ inches. Contemplating if I should breed him.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Out of being bored during the last weekend, I'd decided to do some housekeeping. There is this spare room in my flat that has served as a store room all this while and there are boxes and boxes of stuffs in there, some of which must have been unopened for more than a decade or so. I've always wanted to clear out some of those things that are of no use to me anymore and so I started off by checking out a few boxes that were labeled “doggy stuffs”. They were mostly dog grooming tools, piles of pedigree certificates, photos of dogs I'd owned in the past and etc, going back to those days a long time ago, when I was breeding and showing dogs. Going through the contents of these boxes had brought back some memories, of things that had happened in the past. Among those that I'll surely remember for a long time to come, was this unexpected phone call that I'd received not so long ago.

This happened about a couple of years back. A gentleman had called and as soon as he'd established that I was the person he was looking for, in a very serious tone, he'd started off by saying, “Mr. Low, I have gone to great lengths to find out your phone number. You see, I have to tell you that my wife is in distress and I think you are the person I should be talking to."

I can tell you now, that the Chinese saying, "If you have done no wrong, you will not be alarmed by the knock on the door at midnight" is not always true. For at that moment when I heard what was being said and in that kind of a tone, I was actually more than being alarmed, even though a decent man like me has got no reason to be so.

As it turned out, it had nothing to do with that sort of a misunderstanding that I'd at first feared it was, much to my relief (phew!). What had actually happened did have something to do with my past though.

It seemed that the lady who was very attached to her pet dog of 15 years was very distressed when it had passed away a few months back. That dog was bred by me. I was told that she'd adored the dog so very much, for its breed temperament, its intelligence and its loyalty. The passing of her constant and loyal companion, which in her own words, she'd loved like her own child, was difficult for the lady to come to terms with.

When she was finally convinced by the husband to get a replacement of the same breed, she'd wished that it could be from the same breeder so that she can be more assured of having one that could also have the same character and temperament, hence the phone call. I was told that they had been through a lot of trouble during the months that followed, trying to get in touch with me because my phone number and address were not the same anymore as the information that was given behind the pedigree paper.

Unfortunately, I'd stopped breeding dogs since a long time ago and that dog was one of the last few that I'd bred. Being already very out of touch with the dog breeding community, I was also not able to help very much. As sad as I was for being unable to help, it was also one of those rare moments that had brought me great satisfaction from whatever little that I'd achieved in the past.

Here are a few pictures of some stuffs from the boxes I'd cleared out during the weekend. I thought they would add some color to the post.


Uriah Heep - Stealin'

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The breeding of Nim and Lorraine had to be put aside for the next few months because they both went into molt soon after the temporary separation.

I had estimated Nim’s tail to be 11.7 inches and was pleasantly surprised when I measured the dropped long tail feathers to be about 12.5 inches instead (I have the tendency to underestimate the tail lengths of my own birds). Hopefully, the tail will grow even longer from this molt.

It seems the recent unusual weather here had affected some of the more experienced breeders as well. There had been too much rain, even storms that had caused flash floods over here during the last couple of months. This is quite unusual as mid-year over here is usually the driest and hottest period of the year. From what I had learned, this abnormal weather could cause the breeding period to cease prematurely and the breeding birds to go into molt earlier than expected.

Lorraine was returned to DDS and to save some face from my failure to breed from her, I had 'accused' DDS of providing me with a female which is not even good enough to hold on to her feathers for a little while more. I had even tried to claim for a ‘full refund’ but was gently reminded that I was never charged in the first place for borrowing her. Of course, I was merely testing my luck, in case the weather had affected my old friend's memory as well....hehehe. Being a good friend like I had always been, I had promised to take Lorraine in again after she has completed her molt, to 'help lighten his load'.

Meanwhile, I am crossing my fingers for my other breeding pair. Funkie was recently paired with Ballerina (daughter of Ballet Dancer). Funkie is now 16 months old. His tail length was measured to be 11.5 inches from the first molt and 12.75 inches from the second molt. His tail feathers were quite stiff from the first molt but were much softer from the second. Ballerina is still a virgin, well endowed with a soft and curved tail, measuring 8.5 inches. I had insisted on choosing Ballerina from DDS’s pool of females. Surely, he can’t be expecting me to accept anything else less elegant to be matched to my funky prince.

Funkie seems to be in top breeding condition right now but there is suspicion that Ballerina may be going into molt. Hopefully, if luck is on my side this time, she would be able to produce a clutch before that happens.

Thanks again David, for your generosity.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010



Newly wild-caught shamas that were kept by their trappers or the shopkeepers for some time before being sold would have been taught by these people to eat dry food. For those that are freshly caught and arrived without knowing how to eat dry food, the following may be useful to the novice keeper.

Upon acquiring the freshly wild-caught shama, the novice keeper should first of all, try to provide nourishment quickly to build up its strength before attempting to teach the bird to eat its dry food. Ant eggs are relished by most wild-caught shamas and they are ideal to be used as the first food in captivity to nourish the newly wild-caught bird. Thawed ant eggs should be offered several times each day and drinking water must be available at all times.

Many newly wild-caughts will not be able to seek out the food and water from certain types of food cups that we may use. The food and water must be made visible to the bird by using transparent cups such as those made from plastic instead of porcelain cups. Even then, do not expect a wild bird that is freshly taken from the forest to know how to reach the food from the opening at the top of the cup. It is not unusual that the freshly wild-caught bird will try to get at the food by pecking at the sides of the transparent cups instead. By removing the top of the plastic cups to allow for a wider opening will make it much easier for the bird during this initial period. Alternatively, transparent feeder dishes can be used instead of cups. If there is still difficulty for the bird to access the food and water, place them in small shallow dishes and leave them on the cage floor for the first couple of days.

The bird must be observed to be eating the ant eggs, otherwise, it may be one of those rare occasions where a wild-caught shama will refuse ant eggs. Some captive bred shamas that are never fed ant eggs before as well as the occasional wild-caught from certain localities may not recognize ant eggs as a food source.

After a couple of days, when the bird is observed to be eating well, mix in a drop or two of liquid multi-vitamins and minerals into the ant eggs. A dose of this every couple of days at this stage will help to strengthen its resistance against diseases. Do not be tempted to supplement right from the beginning because if the bird had refused to eat the ant eggs right from the start due to the taste or smell of the supplement, thereafter, it may sometimes take a while to coax it into accepting ant eggs again. It will require a couple of days for the bird to form a strong and positive link to the ant eggs as its source of food. Its desire to feed on them must be strong enough for it to be able to ignore the strange taste and smell of the supplement. Building up a strong reliance on ant eggs will also work well towards using them as the medium to introduce dry food into the bird's diet later on.

When it is time to introduce the dry food into the bird's diet, the keeper may want to bear in mind to do this gradually. I would think that this is important not just only towards successfully training the bird to eat dry food but also to allow the bird to have sufficient time to adjust and produce the required digestive enzymes to cope with a food that is quite foreign to its digestive tract. It may sound trivial to some but over the years and through the trials and errors of raising numerous wild-caught white-rumped shamas, I have often suspected that the instances where I had succeeded well were correlated to the gradual and proper digestive acclimatization of these birds during their early days in captivity.

The dry food must be ground into fine powder and in the beginning, only a small pinch is thoroughly mixed into each serving of the ant eggs. In powdered form, the dry food will adhere better to the moist, thawed ant eggs. After each serving of the mixture, it is usual in the beginning for most of the powdered dry food to be left behind in the cup or to be strewn on the cage floor. Despite the bird’s insistent efforts to shake off the dry food, be assured that some of it will still inevitably be taken in together with the ant eggs. This will be evident in the droppings which by now, instead of being mostly white, would have taken on in some parts, a similar colour to that of the dry food. A few days is needed to feed the bird in this way, after which, the frequency of serving the mixtures of ant eggs and powdered dry food will have to be reduced.

The reduction of the serving frequency is to encourage the bird which will then be quite hungry between the feedings, to go for the dry food that is left over from the mixtures. There will be some taste and smell of ant eggs still lingering on these left-over crumbs and when the bird is hungry enough, it will attempt to feed on these. Once they started feeding on the left-over crumbs of dry food, it is the start of the conditioning of the bird to associate the dry food as a food source to satisfy its hunger. When they are observed to be eating up every thing from the ant eggs and dry food mixture, place a separate cup into the cage that contains only dry food. These need not be ground up but should be in their original pellet form.

The frequency of feeding the mixture of ant eggs and powdered dry food should then be further reduced to only once or twice a day to encourage the bird to feed from the cup of dry pellets, which should be by now recognizable as a food source by the bird. If all goes well, the droppings will show more colour of the dry food during this stage, confirming to the keeper that the bird is indeed eating the dry pellets. If the droppings show slight tinge of green, it is a sign that the bird is starving and not taking sufficient dry food from the cup. When this happens, the frequency of serving the mixture of ant eggs and powdered dry food would have to be increased again, for a while more.

Upon confirming that the bird is feeding very well from the cup of dry food, it should then not be given anything else in the morning. Ant eggs can be reserved for feeding only once in the evening. The ant eggs should also continue to be made good use of as a medium to supply supplements to the bird during this period of stress. Live food that is planned to be part of the captive diet should only be fed in very small quantities each time and from the afternoon onwards or withheld until later, after the bird is well conditioned to consume sufficient quantity of its dry food on a daily basis. This will help to ensure that its apettite for the dry food during this period of conditioning will not be distracted by the presence of other more appealing food sources and will also allow the digestive system to be better adjusted to the dry food which will henceforth, be a substantial part of the bird’s captive diet.

Partly because of the stress associated with conditioning the bird to eat its dry food and partly due to its not being well acclimatized to the captive environment, the newly wild-caught male shama will not be expected to come into form anytime soon. However, if all goes well, the newly wild-caught that is better acclimatized to the captive diet and well cared for during the molt will also usually thrive better and come into form faster in captivity.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, once the bird’s digestive system is acclimatized, the dry food should not be changed from one brand to another as this would mean having to put the bird through the stress all over again. 

Yankovic - Eat it

Monday, August 2, 2010



A good captive diet should be one that is practical for the keeper, nutritionally adequate, compatible to the bird’s digestive system and palatable enough so that the bird can be easily conditioned to consume it in sufficient quantity. In this part of the world where the shama has a long history in captivity, it has been shown that a combination of a good dry food supplemented by some live food daily can serve this purpose well.

Protein is the important component of a nutrient compact diet that is required by the shama in order for it to thrive in captivity. Traditionally, most dry food that are made in this region for the shama will supply this nutrient partly through a combination of ingredients that are rich in plant based proteins, such as beans, legumes and peanuts. Since any single source of plant protein will be incomplete and lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids required, a combination from the various sources will help to ensure that the essential amino acids that may be lacking in one will be made up by another. Apart from these ingredients, generous amounts of egg yolks are usually included in these dry foods. Egg yolk besides being a very rich source of animal protein is also very rich in other nutrients. It is also very agreeable with the digestive system of the captive shama. Fish meal or other ingredients of equivalent nutritional values are sometimes included into the dry food to provide additional animal protein and to supply the necessary calcium. A good dry food besides having a good combination of ingredients that are compatible to the digestive capabilities of the shama for the nutrients to be easily assimilated, must also be consistent in its components from batch to batch so as not to cause unnecessary digestive stress to the birds.

It may be worth mentioning here that ant eggs are very useful when included in the captive diet of shamas and other insectivorous birds. It is a source of nutrient compact food that is also very compatible to their digestible system and most wild-caught shamas will consume these as eagerly as they would consume live insects. Here in this region, ant eggs are available either fresh or frozen. Frozen ant eggs must be thawed and the excess moisture to be soaked up by paper towels before being offered to the birds. In this way and when only a small quantity, such as a teaspoonful is offered each time, it will be eaten up before it can turn rancid in our hot weather.

The usefulness of thawed ant eggs as part of the captive diet goes beyond being a good source of food. The eagerness of most wild-caught shamas to consume them makes them a convenient and effective medium for mixing vitamins or oral medications into, when these are required to be administered to the birds. The appropriate use of ant eggs as the first source of food to quickly nourish the newly wild-caughts and then subsequently to introduce the dry food to the birds through mixing them into the ant eggs, will usually result in faster and better acceptance of the dry food by the birds than the other methods. Similarly, when the need arises to change the dry food from one brand to another, the use of ant eggs will help in enabling a smoother transition to minimize digestive stress that is often associated with an abrupt change of the dry food.

Live insects form an important part in the captive diet of the white-rumped shama to provide for a good source of protein. The convenience of obtaining crickets and mealworms these days will make for easier provision of live insects as part of the diet. Grasshoppers collected from the wild are often regarded to be one of the best live food for the captive shama. Earthworms that are collected from uncontaminated soil will be useful additions to the variety of live food that can be offered in captivity. Live insects that are high in chitin should not be fed in large quantities at a single feeding. It may be worth the trouble to pick out the white molting mealworms to minimise feeding the bird with too much of the indigestible skins. Given the choice, the captive shama will also indicate that whenever possible, its instinct is to avoid the skin (chitin). When offered a mixture, it will always pick out the white skinless ones first.

Live insects should be gut loaded to maximise its nutritional value. Crickets can be fed with chicken feed and other food high in calcium prior to being offered to the captive shama. This will help to make up for the imbalance of calcium to phosphorus ratio in the food value of these insects. They should also be given some carrots or leafy greens to gut load them with beta-carotene to supply some vitamin A which is quite often found to be lacking in the diet of the captive shama. Mealworms will not survive well in chicken feed but can be gut loaded with Nestum family cereals or other equivalents that are fortified with muti-vitamins. They can also be fed with some carrots prior to being offered to the captive bird.

While some of the other species of songbirds we keep may grow fat from their rich captive diet and their sedentary lives, often the white-rumped shama in captivity appears to be undernourished. This is sometimes due to the captive shama not eating enough of the dry food provided. For the caged, non-breeding male white-rumped shama that has already been successfully trained to eat its dry food, under normal circumstances, live food and ant eggs should not be offered to the bird during the early part of the morning. The bird is most hungry at daybreak and when not given the choice, will consume substantial quantity of dry food during this period of the day. This must be encouraged so that the captive shama will be conditioned to always regard the dry food provided from the cup as a source to satisfy its need to eat. It must form the habit to eat sufficiently from this source. By offering live food during the early period of the morning, especially if the quantity is quite substantial, it may result in having the bird reverting to some extent, back to being unwilling to eat its dry food. The bird that is not keen to eat its dry food will not consume them in the sufficient quantity that is needed, preferring to wait for the live food instead. This habit of reluctance to eat its dry food when prolonged, will result in the bird being unable to thrive well in captivity. For this same reason, the quantity of live food for the day should preferably be spread out over a few times during the afternoon and evening and in small quantities each time, instead of being given at a single feeding session so that the bird will be encouraged to eat the dry food in between. This will further reinforce its conditioning and ensure that it will eat sufficiently and evenly throughout the day instead of gorging itself with a large feeding of live food at one go, overloading its small crop and then eating insufficiently at other times of the day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010



Facultative insectivorous wild birds of temperate regions will switch between feeding on insects and other food sources depending on seasonal availabilities. Unlike these birds, the food sources of the tropical wild shama is not affected by climatic fluctuations in the same way. Hence, it has evolved to be a specialist feeder that feeds only on insects and small invertebrates that are found in its habitat throughout the year. When taken into captivity, the specialist feeder will not willingly feed on unfamiliar food items (such as dry pellets), even when forced by extreme hunger. This feeding instinct of the newly wild-caught shama that is so well tailored to its natural habitat will have to be altered by its keeper if it is to survive in captivity. Its digestive system that is so well adapted to its natural food sources will have to be adjusted to accommodate and utilize the captive diet. It has also to be conditioned to eat sufficiently from the captive diet that must also provide adequately in order for it to thrive.

Although it is not difficult these days for the keeper to provide a captive diet that is made up of commercially farmed insects, this alone will not be adequate. Commercially farmed insects are nutritionally inferior in comparison to the natural prey items found in the wild. The lack of variety in commercially farmed insects will also render such a diet to be nutritionally inadequate. The commonly available farmed crickets and mealworms are high in fats and chitin and lacking in many other nutrients. Such a diet will quite certainly cause nutritional deficiencies in the long run. Therefore, the novice keeper should not think that by providing such a diet, he will be providing one that will be closest to the natural diet of the wild shamas.

Within the group of birds classified as insectivores (specialist feeders), the dietary habits and digestive capabilities may still differ to some extent, from one species of this group to another. Their different habitats that support different types of prey items could possibly be the reason behind these slight differences of their digestive adaptations. Therefore, when one species of insectivorous bird thrives on a certain captive diet, it is not necessarily so that all other insectivorous species will do well on this similar diet. An example from my own observations of the commonly kept insectivorous birds shows that the digestive capabilities of the white-rumped shama and that of its relative, the oriental magpie robin can be quite different. When both are fed on a captive diet that is high in chitin, shamas will regurgitate substantial amount of indigestible chitin throughout the day. Regurgitating pellets of undigested chitin is a common behavior of many species of insectivorous birds in the wild. However, the observation that chitin is better retained by the magpie robin and allowed to pass through its digestive tract, suggests that the magpie robin, when compared to the shama, may have a digestive system that is far better equipped to utilize the chitin component of the diet. In the case of the shama that do not retain them in its digestive tract at all, quite clearly, chitin has little or no nutritional value for this species.

Apart from the purpose to expel indigestible matter through the mouth, there are really no other significant benefits to birds from the behaviour of regurgitating indigestible food. In captivity therefore, there is no reason to encourage this natural behaviour in birds like the shama. Hence, if its captive diet comprises of too much indigestible chitin, it will be of no benefit, since it is also shown that shamas do not utilize whatever food value that may be present in these. On the contrary, regurgitation requires convulsive efforts and in the case of the shama, there seem to be significant amount of discomfort associated with this effort. They also seem to be affected by the presence of indigestible pellets that had formed in their crops and are yet to be ejected, often becoming inactive and unwilling to sing or eat until these are regurgitated. Even though the discomfort associated with a high chitin diet may not adversely affect the health of the captive shama, it will at the least, interfere with the performances of a male shama that is raised for the arena. Therefore, it is in my opinion that unlike some other insectivores, the shama should not be fed on a diet that is high in chitin. For this reason, food such as crickets and mealworms which are high in chitin should only be used sparingly when included in the captive diet of the shama.

Certain brands of dry pelleted food for insectivorous birds that are popular in the west may not necessarily be good for the captive shama. For one thing, some of them are tailored to the needs of insectivores from the temperate region and will include substantial amount of dried fruits. Although the digestive system of the captive shama can be conditioned to accomodate such an inclusion in its diet, it is however not a species that will thrive on nutrient dilute food such as fruits. Unlike the temperate insectivore whose digestive system is adapted to consuming nutrient dilute food during certain time of the year, the white-rumped shama, being a specialist feeder that feeds on a nutrient compact diet throughout the year, is by nature, a small eater that do not have the required capacity in its apettite for a nutrient dilute diet. Some of these pelleted dry food contains substantial percentage of crude fibre, often advertised to be necessary to simulate the chitin component of an insectivore's diet. In the case of the captive shama, I do not think that this is beneficial.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010



By the time the newly wild-caught shama reaches the shop or its keeper, more often than not, its physical and mental well being would have already been compromised to some extent, due to hunger and due to the cramped and perhaps, sometimes even torturous condition during its storage and the journey. It is extremely terrified and can even be quite disorientated when placed into its cage. The subsequent frantic and seemingly endless but futile attempts to escape from its confinement and from the terrifying new surroundings will only add on to the physical and mental stress to drain the bird further. In this very delicate state, its health and immune system will be further compromised if it also did not receive nourishment quickly. For those that perished during the early stage in captivity, the combination of stress and starvation is usually the primary cause of death.

The novice keeper that is fortunate enough to be able to keep his newly wild-caught bird alive, only to be disappointed months later down the road by its inability to thrive well in captivity, should try to understand that his frustrations were most likely brought about by his failure to acclimatize the bird properly to captivity. He should also try to understand the importance of the early transition period, during the first week or so upon acquiring the bird. Often, laying a good foundation during this initial period goes a long way towards a successful acclimatization of the bird to captivity. For every male wild-caught white-rumped shama that has made it to the arena and fulfilled its purpose in captivity, there will be many others that could not. Often, when they do not make it, the blame is on the birds for being unable to make the grade. Perhaps the novice keeper should also see it from another perspective: that the full potential of a captive male white-rumped shama cannot be unveiled if it is not in good health and that it will also not come into optimal form if it is not fully and properly acclimatized to its captive diet and the captive environment.

A newly wild-caught green leaf bird will quickly adapt to captivity and most will become very tame within a short period of time. A newly wild-caught hwamei, although will be as difficult to tame down as the shama, will rarely starve to death because it will readily eat the dry pelleted food offered in captivity. The wild-caught white-eyes and bulbuls will also easily take to the fruits and the sweetened dry food very quickly and both are by nature, able to withstand very well, the stress associated with captivity. Among the popularly kept songbirds of Asia, the wild-caught white-rumped shama is however, one of the most difficult to adapt and thrive in captivity.

Deep Purple - Mistreated

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Just as I thought I had already paid the price in full, for all the years of self inflicted abuse on my health, the kelong referee from above had without good reason, decided to show me another yellow card last Saturday morning - 19th June, soon after the England-Algeria match.

"Bad refereeing! Curry chicken! @#$%^&*+_*%$#@!!! "


For smoking, I was already punished with a pair of bad lungs. My liver is bad too, from past indulgence in alcohol and panadol. I don’t sleep much, probably a habit formed from many years of gambling through the nights and for whatever other sins that I am not aware of, I have been continuously suffering the pains from a slipped disc. But I have no high blood pressure, my cholesterol is only slightly higher than what is deemed to be the good level and I am not even overweight like most people my age. SO WHY THE **** DO I HAVE TO GET A HEART ATTACK AS WELL?

It must have been sometime around 5 a.m. and I had just fallen asleep when the first wave of pain came. It was bad, like a knife being thrust into my chest pushing the pain right to the back. I had thoughts at first that it was all just a bad dream but the pain was too real and building up fast. I found myself clutching the chest with one hand and propping myself up with the other. As the pain subsided after a few minutes, the first thought that went through my mind was whether if it was an angina pain or just simply heartburn. I was pretty sure it wasn’t heartburn. Other thoughts soon followed quickly in succession.

You see, death is not something I am terrified of. Of more concern to me is that dying from a heart attack for a person that lives alone would be a bad way to go. I often read in the papers of dead people being discovered only after the stench of death was noticed by the neighbours. To me, that would be the most impolite way of announcing one’s demise.

My daughter who stays in the university hostel do come back to see me every now and then but I can never be sure if she will come back soon enough if I were to go this way. Then there is always a remote possibility that my friends may come and break down the door if I have not answer their calls after a few days but a few days may be all it takes for the body to start to decompose. Believe me, all these were running through my mind then.

As I was putting on my clothes, the second wave of pain came. I knew I have to act fast. This time the pain was worse than the first. I wanted to get out fast but somehow, the pain was slowing me down both physically and mentally. I could hardly move towards the door and I had difficulty trying to concentrate. I had managed to get the keys and the cell phone and fighting against the excruciating pain, I tried to think straight, contemplating whether or not to call the ambulance. The nearest hospital is only about 15 minutes away and I would have a better chance of reaching the hospital faster if I were to catch a cab from downstairs. The last time I saw someone called an ambulance from my block, they took like forever to arrive. I would be damned if I were to depend on those assholes. This is not the same as someone having an asthma attack. Time was running out fast.

The thought of getting out of my flat quickly, kept on ringing inside my head like an alarm bell gone crazy. If I were to collapse, at the least it would have to be outside my flat. I must certainly not allow myself to die and stink inside my own home. But it was getting increasingly difficult and the pain was reaching unbearable, as if someone had his hand inside my chest and was squeezing down on the organs. Out of frustration and anger, I heard myself swearing out loud and then the second wave of pain disappeared.

By the time I had gotten downstairs, the pain had already returned for the third time.

At this hour, there are usually lots of empty cabs plying the main road just outside of my block. I had counted on this to be the fastest means of getting to the hospital and sure enough, as soon as I had stepped out of my block, I saw one approaching from a distance. Just then, a man ran out from about 50 feet in front of me, stopped the approaching cab and boarded. I sat down heavily on the curb by the roadside, once again drained and exhausted by the clutching pain coming from the inside of my chest. I had wanted to lift up a hand to show the middle finger to the guy who had beaten me to the cab as it drove by but I could not. So I sat there confused by the pain, regretting not calling the ambulance and desperately wishing not to be left to die by the roadside.

The pain had again disappeared by the time the next cab came along. I had wondered then, how many rounds of pain I would have to endure before I will finally succumb. All the swear words uttered in protest must have been heard by someone up there and so I was in a way, blessed with a cab driver who drove like I was his own brother when I told him that I was having a heart attack. He had passed a few red traffic lights when he was sure it was safe to do so and we arrived at the hospital in less than 10 minutes.

For the fifth time that morning, the pain came again, half way to the hospital. This time round, it returned with a vengeance as if in protest for my surviving the previous rounds. Cold sweat was breaking out all over and I was finding it difficult to breathe as I stumbled into the emergency room. I was barely able to tell the nurse that I was having a heart attack and had to try very hard not to collapse into her arms. I was put on a wheelchair and pushed into a room to be given a quick ECG. A patch was slapped onto my left chest to ease the pain. I was also fed some dissolved aspirin through a straw but the pain only subsided when I was given some morphine later on.

They had put me on a bed and I was wheeled into what I thought was a preparation room. There were conversations going on outside the curtain partition and for a while, I was straining my ears trying hard to hear what the cardio doctor was saying to a junior medical officer regarding something on the reading of my ECG. What the **** is wrong with medical schools? Do they really have to train doctors to write prescriptions in hebrew and speak in martian tongue?

A lady doctor with pretty eyes gave me some papers to sign. She was wearing a mask and her face came quite close to mine as she explained very quickly that they would need my consent to proceed. Just as well that she had a mask on for I thought my breath must be smelling worse than my fart as I had not brushed my teeth that morning. Someone else was fussing around putting me on a drip and having a tube wrapped around my face to supply oxygen through my nose. By then, they had also taken some blood and had a few more ECG readings churned out. I was being prepared for a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention to relieve the narrowing and obstruction of the coronary arteries through the insertion of a balloon catheter via an artery at the wrist. I had also given consent for them to do an open heart surgery if necessary. The lady doctor was very comforting as she assured me that the risk involved for the procedure will be minimal. She had this ugly doctor’s gown over her but I could tell she was voluptuous and those eyes were sexier than I had thought earlier. Then someone started to strip me down.

Naked and covered only with a thin blanket, I shivered a bit. The nurse that had stripped me began shaving my inner thighs all the way up to where they meet the scrotum. She had explained that the catheter could also be inserted through an artery via the inner thigh areas should there be difficulty doing it from the wrist. That was how my sexy 'sideburns' were gone.

It was getting really cold in that room and I was thinking that something might have shrunken a great deal in size due to the cold, as it always does. I wished that the nurse would not make a ‘small’ joke out of it during the morning break. Holy cow! she ought to know better that it was freezing cold in there! 

The procedure was completely painless, to my surprise. I was fully awake and could see what was going on from the monitors. As it turned out, one of my arteries had completely collapsed and another in very bad shape. The cardiologist performing the procedure was a nice guy and he took me through each step of the way. He inserted two stents to support the arteries. They act like scaffoldings to hold up the walls and will remain there for the rest of my life. There are other areas that were also partially blocked but for those, I would have to rely on the oral medications.

So I survived my first ever heart attack and joined the ranks of those who carry sublingual nitroglycerin tablets in their pockets.

Humble Pie - I don't need no doctor 

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Good singing ability is very much an inherited trait, as I have found out with captive-breds. From my experience, training can also improve variety of songs to a certain extent.

Sharing my method of encouraging the build up to a better variety of songs for taimongs:

The taimong is first exposed as much as possible to the songs of adult male shamas that are good songsters. If there isn't any good adult shama songsters at home, borrow from friends or arrange to board the taimong for a few days every now and then with friends that own good songsters. When the taimong is exposed to the songs of other good shama songsters, he will remember the songs. Until they are into first molt, taimongs won't be intimidated by adult males nearby but it is still best not to be in close visual contact with adult males for long periods of time, especially when they are approaching the first molt. The taimong can also be exposed to other songbirds if the owner wishes for him to learn the songs of other songbirds. The earlier the age this is started, the better will be the songs when they mature. If a nestling is taken from the nest, hand raised and isolated from the songs of other shamas throughout the taimong stage, he won't be a good songster.

I prefer shama songs to have variety and I do not care very much about melodious quality. I do not mind them having rough songs and so I expose my birds to all kinds of sounds, natural or mechanical. I also take them to park fringes and road sides filled with traffic noises and all sorts of foreign sounds. If this is not desirable to the owner, they should be minimised.

After a period of time of exposure this way, and when the bird is approaching his first molt, he is then kept in a room, near to a radio with the music channel turned on for many hours during the day. The cage should preferably be covered with the cloth cover and distraction should be minimised throughout the molt. This is to encourage him to sing his subsongs.

These are what I believe and they form the basis for my training method for a better variety of songs:

Besides being able to learn easily the songs of other shamas, a male shama is also able to pick out the sounds in his surroundings that are suitable to be used as song materials. At any time during the day, he may pick out the songs of other species of birds and some other foreign sounds from his surroundings and match them to the song template in his brain to select those that are suitable as song materials to be used to form shama songs. He will then add these into the existing store of song materials in his brain. When he sings his lengthy subsongs (which will be when his stomach is full and when he is not threatened by his surroundings and in a relaxed mode), he is in fact, mixing and combining song materials from his store in a way much like a musician/songwriter composing or arranging songs. Guided by the song template in his brain, the selected songs of other species and sounds from his surroundings when included into his repertoire will be arranged in such a way that when they are sung, they will sound typical of the songs of his species. Perhaps limited by his vocal range when he is singing his loud songs, some of these song materials will always remain only in the subsongs and will not be reproduced in the loud songs. Others will be used to form loud songs or added into formed songs. He may sing some of them soon or store them in the brain until the right time to recall and reproduce them vocally.

An additional thought to share:

Each male shama will have his own set of primary songs. These are the songs which he will sing often. When he is not in-form, he is often heard singing mostly only his primary songs. When he is in-form, he will be very willing to sing much more than just the primary songs as well as adding more vocal aggression and loudness to the songs, all these to intimidate his rivals. This is why a no-form bird can be quite often repetitive and an in-form bird is more varied, especially when the latter is challenged vocally by other males.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Every once in a while, we will come across a freshly wild caught male shama that although still bashing around wildly in his cage, will 'chai' fiercely when he is brought into the arena. Such a newly wild caught is described in our local term as having his 'mountain fire' (form from the wild) still intact.

A very dominant and in-form male shama in the wild, that has his gonads (testicles) fully enlarged and his testosterone at peak level, is at a stage when he is almost fearless and most willing to take risks. Driven by the super high level of testosterone within him, he will readily confront any intrusions into his territory or challenge the most threatening of situations to establish one, with little to fear. His super high form at this stage will see him often disregard the risks of injuries or death during confrontations. Birds at this stage are often seen to be bold enough to come out into the open to confront approaching trappers from low hanging branches, in reaction to the whistling from the trappers or the sounds of another shama played from taped recordings. I have even heard of one that had such super high form, he had for a short while, sang fiercely while in the clutch of the trapper's hand. (This bird died during the long journey to a buyer who is a friend of mine).

Upon being captured and despite the ordeal, the form and the level of testosterone of a bird in this stage may not recede immediately. He may still be able to perform impressively in the arena, as he would in the wild because his super high form is so overwhelming that for a while, not even the frightening ordeal of being captured and the fear of the new environment could affect the 'mountain fire'. This form that may sometimes be carried over from the wild is however, usually short-lived when the bird is taken into captivity. It is only a matter of time before the overpowering fear of a new and threatening captive environment will sink in deeper and suppresses the 'mountain fire'. 

JudasPriest - Reckless

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


My Indonesian friend William recently bought 2 captive bred taimongs:

This taimong (yet to be named) has a longer tail. At 1.5 months old, his tail measured 4.5 inches. His father has a 11+ inches tail and his mother has a 7+ inches tail. William hopes to be able to breed from him someday, for his long tail genes.

This is LT, the father of the taimong above. He is in my opinion, a very handsome male.

This taimong was named Isamu (Japanese for courage and bravery). At 2.5 months old, his tail measured 3.1 inches. William was told by the breeder that he was bred from a Sumatran champion male. William had witnessed the Sumatran champion performing at competitions and described his songs to be very "tajam" (high pitched). William described Isamu to be very loud voiced and alert to his surroundings.

Isamu fell sick not long after arriving at William's place. He deteriorated quickly and had became weak and was not eating much. At this stage, I had thought that he was not able to pull through.

Sometimes we can feel very helpless when our birds fall sick because usually, for most of us, there is no avian vet around that has experience in species like the shama. Despite what seemed to be a hopeless situation, William did not give up hope and spared no effort in giving the debilitating bird all the supportive care that was needed. Miraculously, Isamu is now recovering and going into his first molt. I received an email from William and among other things, this was what he said: " it opens up my eyes that bird keeping is not just about beauty and sound. It is also about caring and nurturing."

I think my young friend William will one day be a great shama keeper. He is now planning to acquire another taimong from a famous breeder in West Java.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


It may be logical for us to think that since the habitats of wild shamas are densely forested, captive shamas by nature are not accustomed to bright sunlight. After thinking deeply about this, I am now not too convinced if this is really true. Even densely forested habitats will surely have pockets within them that will allow direct sunlight to pass through to the forest ground. I have been into shama habitats during my younger days and had seen areas like this. This is also confirmed by DDS who had also been into shama habitats in the past. Will birds like the shama that lives in densely forested habitats seek out these areas to bask? We couldn't really know for sure but judging from how captive shamas will indulge in sun-bathing whenever there is opportunities to do so, there is a likelihood that they could have. We really know very little of what is happening in the wild. If a nocturnal bird will sun-bath in the middle of the day, there is really no reason to believe that the wild shama will not seek out the opportunities to do so. (

Humans as well as animals can develop cataracts when their eyes are over-exposed to strong UV rays of the sun. When some shamas are more prone to develop cataracts, old age and genetic predispositions must also be taken into account when considering the underlying factors that may have contributed to this condition.

Most birds will indulge in sun-bathing and the captive shama is no exception. When placed under direct sunlight, strong enough to induce the shama to sun-bath, it will spread out its wings and fluff up its body feathers to allow the sun to penetrate into the skin. The shama, like other captive birds will even sun-bath under very strong mid-day sun to the extent of overheating itself, as can be seen from their panting when this happens. If sunlight will cause cataracts in the captive shamas because they are more sensitive to the sun than other species in captivity such as the red whiskered bulbuls and the zebra doves, hobbyists in Indonesia, where the shama has a long history in captivity, would not have continued to advocate this practice today. If the sun is no good for captive shamas and they are by nature not accustomed to it, why do they indulge in sun-bathing like the other species instead of having a natural aversion and avoiding hot sun?

What benefits are there to make birds in the wild as well as birds in captivity indulge in sun-bathing? There are various theories offered by scientists. One of them is that sun-bathing will reduce the metabolic energy needed to maintain the constant body temperature of around 40 degrees C. Another is that it aids to rid the body of parasites and a third one is that it allows the UV ray to stimulate the precursors of vitamin D that is found in the preen oil of birds.

I practiced sun-bathing my shamas in the past, usually in the mid mornings, whenever I can. I have kept birds since I was very young and in my 40 over years of bird keeping, I can remember having had only one shama that had developed cataracts among the many I have kept. I also had another bird of a different species developed cataracts as well, not too long ago. In recent years, since taking an interest in long tailed shamas, I have not been sunning them as much. Because I took great trouble to ensure that the long tails grew well during the molt and are maintained well after that, I do not want to have them curling upwards, which is what tends to happen when they are sun-bathed. There were occassions when I had suspected that some of my birds may had feather mites and I will sun-bath them. I will normally do this before giving them a bath and not after a bath. This is because I feel that a cool bath after sun-bathing helps to some extent in restoring the curled up tail feathers back to their original form
. I would not bring a bird from a dimly lit area indoors to be immediately placed in the open under very bright sunlight as I think this would at the least, cause great discomfort to the eyes. 

Nazareth - Sunshine


This is the picture of Nim taken this morning. I had decided to temporarily remove him from the breeding cage. Meanwhile, Lorraine is still sitting on the unfertile eggs but in a few days time, she will abandon them. This time round, I will try to make sure that the timing is right before releasing Nim back into the breeding cage.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I candled the eggs when Lorraine came out of the nest-box early this morning for her first feeding. The last time I counted the eggs was on the day she started sitting and there were 4 of them. As expected, she had laid another the next day but the candling shows that all 5 eggs were infertile. This was also quite expected because although Lorraine was ready to be bred at the time the pair was introduced, Nim wasn't and no mating took place before the eggs were laid.

I will remove the nest-box and the eggs when the time is up, in a few days time and will observe the pair to decide when to put it back. I would expect that the next clutch will be fertile. Hope this expectation will come true just like the others so far.

Although they were not fertilised, having 5 eggs in this clutch, all of normal size, had indicated to me that Lorraine's diet prior to laying was ok and she was in pretty good physical condition.

Lorrain is a very good hen in many ways. She has a stable temperament. With a little effort, she was quite easily conditioned to allow me to remove the nest-box periodically for inspection of the eggs. I think not all shama hens will tolerate this and some may even abandon the nest when disturbed this way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


It's been a week since Lorraine started sitting the eggs. She has been doing a very good job, only coming out of the nest box for short periods during the day to feed and bath. Before she started sitting, she will feed during the night, up to the time the lights are turned off at about 9 pm. I had already installed a dim night light to ensure that there is sufficient light for her to find her way back to the nest-box, in case she is still out when the main lights are turned off but that seems to be quite unnecessary. Ever since she started sitting, she has never leave the nest-box after 6 pm even though the lights are on at night, as usual. Perhaps the incubating hen senses the drop in temperature as night approaches and instinctively will not leave the eggs even for short periods.

I have not candled the eggs to check if they are fertile. I was advised by DDS that even if they are not, it is best to let the hen incubate the full period instead of discarding them which will stress the pair and may cause the hen to shortly lay another clutch that is likely to be unfertilised.

Uriah Heep - Sweet Lorraine

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Lorraine laid the 4th egg earlier today. When I came home, she was in the nest box and it appeared that she has started sitting the eggs. If that is so, it would mean that this clutch will consist of 4 or 5 eggs.

If any of the eggs are fertile, they will hatch in about 11 days time. The only way of finding out if they are fertile is to candle them. I was told by DDS that the best time to do this is after 4 days from the time the female starts sitting the eggs.

Will update again when I can confirm whether they will become chicks or omelette.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Lorraine laid her 3rd egg.

Up to yesterday, the pair was fed only live food consisting of crickets, mealworms, pineapple beetles and froglets. The insects are gut loaded with dog food, chicken feed, Nestum cereals, carrot and a little powdered calcium. The egg shells of the 3 eggs were well formed, suggesting that there were sufficient store of calcium in the female bird so far. I am afraid that she may be quite depleted by now and I will also be supplementing with a liquid calcium from now on. Additionally, small guppies will also be included in the daily diet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


At around 10am, Lorraine came out of the nest box. Here's the pic of the egg.


I haven't been paying very much attention to the pair for the last few days. I woke up early this morning, replenished the feeder boxes and sat in front of the breeding cage watching the pair in anticipation (as if I knew something will happen). At about 8.15am, Lorraine entered the nest box. I had seen her entering the nest box occasionally, since the nest was built but had not seen her stayed for very long inside.

It's been more than half an hour and she is still inside as I write. She is laying the first egg.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Sometimes, I am not quite sure if the female shama is merely a passive party awaiting to be wooed during the courtship. Lorraine was observed yesterday to be repeatedly taking off from the perch and making quick u-turns in mid-air to return back to the perch. This type of flight in the presence of a male, I would think, signals the female's readiness to breed, although so far I have not seen any males reacting to it.

The following is David's point of view, extracted from an email I received from him:

"The female shama in top breeding condition tends to exhibit a distinctive flight pattern that is quite different from her normal flight. Usually, in the confines of an aviary, the shama (male or female) will fly from perch to perch and from floor to perch. In other words, there is purpose in the flight - to travel from place to place. However, the female that is really ready to mate, when in the company of the male, frequently flies from her perch in a quick but seemingly fluttering flight that takes an elliptical loop and returns her to about the same place on the perch without her first landing anywhere else. She may do this again and again. Her action seems reflexive and pointless as, all the while, the male appears unconcerned with her antics. The lack of reaction from the male suggests that such flights are not part of a courtship display or intended to stimulate the male's sexual interest. I am not sure of the function of such flights in the mating process and only wish to observe at this time that the ready female will tend to have such flight patterns. "

(Perhaps, if Lorraine could learn to sashay like the sexy lady passing by DDS , she too would succced in arousing Nim).

Lorraine was very busy throughout this morning building the nest from the nesting materials provided. I hope Nim is up to it.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Lorraine showed signs of readiness and was introduced to Nim. I had taken the necessary precautions to prevent serious injuries to Lorraine and to minimise stress to the pair should they need to be separated quickly.

During the initial 20 minutes or so, Nim went at her fiercely but stop short of pecking at her whenever she was cornered. Lorraine is a very matured and aggresive bird herself and in her stage of readiness, she soon began to relax. This also causes Nim to relax slightly. An hour later, she was relax enough to start eating and will stand her ground whenever Nim advances aggresively. In about 2 hours time, they were observed to be taking turns to bath at the bath tray provided. The introduction was successful.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


It is expected that when a female white-rumped shama is introduced to a male who is not ready to breed, he may attack her violently. I would very much want to share a very unpleasant experience that I had sometime ago, when a female was introduced to an unready male. On that occasion, the male did not attack the female violently but had just did enough to prevent her from having access to the food and water. I had not realised this in time, thinking that all is well. Since there appeared to be no indication that the female will come to any serious physical harm, I had left the pair together. As a result of this carelessness in observing the pair during the introduction, the female died 3 days later, not from physical injuries but from starvation. Sometimes it is hard to forget a mistake, no matter how many ways I looked at it afterwards. Perhaps, by sharing this mistake, I will have to bear with the disgusts of the more experienced but I hope that it could also be of some use to others who are less experienced.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


So far, the pair of white-rumped shamas Nim and Lorraine seems to be far from being ready to be introduced to one another. I have already started the pre-breeding conditioning. They are given lots of livefood daily. Twice a week, they are supplemented with multi-vitamins and minerals and on all the other days, vitamin B-complex. In addition, they will be given vitamin E once a week. The feeder insects are also gut-loaded with food rich in calcium before feeding to the birds. Hopefully, all these will bring them into breeding condition soon and also give them a better chance to succeed.

There is a reason for Nim to be out of condition at this time of the year, when he should be in good form and breeding condition. Not long after his recent 2nd molt, Nim was hand-caught from his cage to cut the overgrown toe nails. As he is not used to being handled this way, he seems to be quite affected by the stress. At about the same time, I had also switched him from my home made dry food to commercial pellets. This change of diet although done gradually, must have further stressed him. As a result, Nim went through a partial (stress) molt. Only the tail feathers were shed and he had just completed growing them. Luckily, all seems to be well now and his form is gradually returning.

Monday, March 22, 2010


This indoor breeding cage was constructed with the help of my friend Osbert, another shama hobbyist.

There are 4 doors. The small door at the extreme right upper half of the cage is to enable easy access to the nest-box. Another small door at the lower half of the cage is for easy movements of the feeder boxes in and out of the cage. The largest door at the bottom is to allow for a bamboo cage to be placed inside whenever it is necessary. An additional large door at the top half was constructed so that when the birds are removed and all the doors are opened up, every part of the inside can be reached for cleaning or for disinfecting purposes.

The roof and 3 sides of the cage were covered with light plywood over the wire mesh, leaving only the front open to provide for a better sense of security for the breeding pair. The height of the cage is only 4 feet from cage-floor to roof and about 3 feet from floor to nest-box. This low height from floor to nest-box is to minimise injuries to newly fledged chicks. Later on, additional perches will be added to some areas below the nest-box to further minimise injuries to falling fledglings.

This nest-box was given to me by David DS. (If the breeding is not successful, I could always put the blame on the ugly nest-box).

This plastic guppy tank measuring approx. 13" long and 8" tall is ideal for using as a feeder box. A variety of insects such as crickets, mealworms and 'pineapple beetles' can be placed inside. It is tall enough to prevent the crickets from jumping out. Some birds may need a little encouragement initially to enter the box but in no time, they will be jumping in and out of it with ease.

This plastic turtle tank is just right for feeder froglets. The cover was cut leaving a narrow strip around the edge, overhanging the opening to prevent the froglets from climbing out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


This is Lorraine. She will be introduced to Nim when the time is ripe.

Lorraine possesses a good neck and was observed to be very willing to flick her 8 inches tail quite high. I would think that it may not be easy to breed from her but with the encouragements from David DS, who is also her breeder, I look forward to the challenges in the coming months, with the hope to be successful in this pairing and to producing offsprings of decent quality.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I spent the last couple of days preparing a breeding cage for Nim. Nim is almost 2 years old and among the shamas that I have kept during the last few years, he is my favorite in terms of physical structure, posture and songs. He has no glaring faults and is overall quite a stylish bird when in form. However, he is slightly lacking in one aspect during display. Although he has an aggresive style of display that comes with multiple tail flicks, Nim do not flick his tail feathers high enough for my liking. This could be partly due to his 11.7 inches long tail feathers being too broad. I would have to keep this in mind when selecting for a suitable female. She would also have to be equally sound in her overall physical structure.

It is always easier said then done. Still, I would hope to be able to produce offsprings from him that are equally good in physical structure and better in tail-play.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Hwamei (leucodioptron canorum, formerly garrulax canorus) was once amongst the most popularly kept songbirds in my country, until their availability was greatly affected by the restrictions imposed on this species. Most Singaporeans today live in flats and the popularity decline could also be partly due to the fact that the hwamei is too loud to be kept in these homes without sometimes annoying other family members as well as neighbours.

The ones commonly kept here is the nominate subspecies, leucodioptron canorum canorum. They are native to southern China and Indochina. There is another subspecies, leucodioptron canorum owstoni, native to the Hainan island. The Taiwanese hwamei, leucodioptron taewanum is now considered a separate species. In Taiwan, introduced l. canorum hybridises with the native species of l. taewanum. The Taiwanese species is now classified as "Near Threatened" by Birdlife International largely due to the extent of hybridisation with the mainland species (

The native Taiwanese species do not have the white eye-brows and are generally inferior to the mainland species in terms of song qualities. Some of the hybridised specimens have shortened white eye brows in comparison to the mainland species.

Hwameis are omnivorous but I also consider them to be facultative insectivores because they feed mainly on insects during the crop season when these are in abundance. After the crop season, they will switch to feeding on plant seeds. They are quite often described in published journals and articles by foreign authors to be also feeding on fruits found on the forest ground, a description that I think is quite frequently used for most ground feeding thrushes. From my understanding of a research paper done on the crop contents of this species and from what I had learned from good old-timer bird keepers from China, I had formed the opinion that fruits do not constitute a significant portion in the diet of the hwamei in the wild.

In captivity, non-breeding hwameis are known to do quite well on dry pellets formulated from grains and chicken feed, supplemented with live insects. Besides chicken feed, unpolished rice fried in egg yolks were also used in the past to feed this species and quite possibly could also be included as part of the recipes of the commercial pellets formulated for the hwamei here today. Unlike the shamas, they are not fussy eaters and most newly wild caughts will readily feed on the commercial pellets or plain chicken feed without much need to train them to do so. A chicken feed based dry food supplemented with live insects daily seems to be a close match to its natural wild diet. Unlike in the west, hwameis here are traditionally not given fruits as part of their diet. I would think that the people who had passed down the methods of feeding the captive hwamei to us here, knew the bird well enough, for it is afterall a native species of the land from which they had came from.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


When the Chinese migrants came to Singapore, they brought along with them their skills and methods of keeping songbirds. Their influences on the ways to keep and appreciate songbirds are still deeply rooted in the hobby here today. The use of circular chinese bamboo cages here, originates from these early migrants.

SIZES OF CAGES FOR EACH SPECIES: The sizes of circular chinese bamboo cages are defined by the diameters of the cages which is similar to the lengths of the centrally placed perches. The tradition to use the appropriate size for each species has changed very little over the years. 8 to 9 inches cages are used for oriental white-eyes, 10 to 12 inches cages for most finches, 14 inches cages for hwameis and magpie robins (slightly larger cages are sometimes used for these species today) and depending on the length of the tail feathers, cages 16 inches and above are used for white-rumped shamas.

VARIATIONS OF BAMBOO CAGES: There are slight variations at the lower part of the circular bamboo cages used for the different species. These slight variations take into consideration their different style of movemments. For examples, the bottom part of a 9 inches cage will come with a circular landing perch that will be raised
a few inches from the cage floor to cater to the smooth 'play' of the oriental white-eye. This provision of a circular perch below also takes into consideration the arboreal nature of this species and will prevent the birds from being forced to make unnatural and awkward landings on the cage floor. A 14 inches cage for the hwamei is provided with two flat landing areas at two opposite ends of the cage bottom, parallel to the perch. These will provide comfortable and appropriately spots for which the hwamei will naturally target to land with their typical up-down movements from the perch. Larger cages for the shamas do not have provisions for landing spots or perches below. These cages are provided only with a single central perch. There is no hinderance all the way down to the cage floor so as to cater for the ground-feeding natural behavior of the shama to feed on the cage floor. It is also a natural behaviour of this species to sometimes display and move about on the cage floor.

This hobby in my country also includes to a certain degree, the appreciation of traditional chinese art and crafts, often evident on the bamboo cages. Bamboo cages are crafted with traditional chinese
designs or figures depicting chinese legends and folklores. These are carved onto the cages' legs and some other parts of the cages. In the past, well-knowned craftmen in China would take many months to hand craft each cage and these are the ones most valued today. Just like antiques, higher monetary values are placed on old cages that are still in good condition. Machines are mostly used these days in China to make bamboo cages and to carve the designs.

Accessories for bamboo cages are made for practical as well as decorative purposes, usually serving dual purpose at the same time. Accessories made from elephant task ivories are most valued. Whether they are made from wood or ivories, these accessories are also crafted with designs to compliment the main design themes of the cages. Old porcelain cups for birds are valued just like old handcrafted cages.

WHY WE DO NOT PREFER AVIARIES OR LARGER CAGES: Unlike in the west, birds are being kept in bamboo cages without much consideration to sufficient space for exercise. As can be seen from the above sizes used for each species, there is only enough space for a bird to just move around and perhaps at best, with a slight flutter of the wings for exercise. Throughout the history of bird keeping here where birds are kept in the confined spaces of bamboo cages, there has not been much cause for concern for the lack of flight exercise. Granted that they are fed well and cared for, once acclimatised, these birds usually will live to a ripe old age, many exceeding a decade.

A bird that is well acclimatised to its surroundings and to its bamboo cage will over time, develop a 'cage play' (movements within the cage) that is most natural to its species. The size and variation of the bamboo cage will also help to define the type of cage play. Good cage play is highly desirable to the hobbyists here. Over time, a bird well acclimatized to the small space of a bamboo cage will also be conditioned to channel most of its energy into its songs and physical displays. The limited space within the cage can only heighten the intensity of the performance of an in-form bird with an abundance of energy. The same bird if kept in a spacious aviary could not have developed the desired cage play nor will it perform with the same intensity in the aviary where the abundant space will provide other options to dilute the energy during a performance.

SPECIES OF SONGBIRDS THAT ARE NOT KEPT IN CHINESE BAMBOO CAGES HERE: The keeping of the zebra dove as a songbird here in Singapore is the least influenced by the bird keeping traditions originating from the Chinese. The appreciation and methods of keeping this species is heavily influenced by the Thais who popularised this species of songbird in south east asia. Chinese bamboo cages are not used for these birds. The hobbyists of the red-whiskered bulbul in Singapore also do not use traditional chinese bamboo cages. The ways to appreciate the red-whiskered bulbul in Singapore has somewhat evolved over the years and has found its own unique form that requires the bird to be kept in tall cages, quite different from those used by other hobbyists of this species from our neighbouring countries.