Jeffrey Low

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.