Jeffrey Low

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.


  1. hi jeffrey,
    chicken feed is good for gut loading crickets. where can one buy them. any brand/name, so that it will easier to search for them in the market/birdshop?.

  2. Very informative, I have a male shama that would not eat dry food at all. I shall try your method, as I really want my shama to eat dry food. I have tried giving all sort of dry food but it would not eat them. Anymore advice will be very much appreciated.

  3. Chicken feed is sold in the birdshops here. Just ask for it in hokkien - 'kway kia liaw'.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    Your knowledge of the shama's nutritional needs is reflected in the health of your birds.

    I am impressed with Nim's condition especially at this time when it is in molt. Most captive birds will be fluffy and inactive during the molt as the nutrition they get at this time is often inadequate or unsuitable for a good molt. Nim, on the other hand, is in top condition.

    If I may, I would like to take a video of him at this time and post it on your blog (or on mine)as an example of how active a shama can be even during the molt if it receives the correct nutrition.


  5. Hi David,

    I charge modelling fees you know?
    ....hehehe just kidding!
    Please come by to take the video anytime you want. Thanks for the compliments.


  6. [Anonymous said... Very informative, I have a male shama that would not eat dry food at all. I shall try your method, as I really want my shama to eat dry food. I have tried giving all sort of dry food but it would not eat them. Anymore advice will be very much appreciated].

    Hi, I hope Part IV will be useful to you.

  7. I caught a few shamas only 1 survive and more than 7 months. lately I caught 1 beautiful shama but only lasted 17 days. Heartache. Have feed with crikets and earthworm but reluctunt to eat dry food. Morning 2 crikets and 2 earthworm,lunch 2-4 crikets and dinner 2=4 crikets depending the size of crikets. if skip lunch and feed only late in the evening the bird would die in 2-3 days time. any solution?

  8. Hi,

    In all the cases you mentioned, the birds had died due to insufficient intake of food.

    You either choose to feed them with an all live food diet or teach them properly to eat dry food. By providing only that few pieces of live food each day while not trying at all to teach the bird to eat dry food, it is inevitable that they will all die in a matter of days.

    In part IV, I have written down a method to teach them to eat dry food with ant eggs. You can also use cut up insects in place of the ant eggs if you want.

    During the initial few days, feed them all the live food they can eat throughout the day to build up their strength (and not just that few pieces 3 times a day like you had done). Once you started the cut up insects mixed in powdered dry food, you should not feed them any more live food separately until they have fully learned to eat dry food.