Jeffrey Low

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


  1. hi jeffrey,
    just share with you something that is not your usual regular feedbacks.
    i had developed a love for the shamas and enjoy reading your blog, the information is valuable.

    i have not found my dream shama yet and i dont think it will be in sight at the moment, guess more money need to be wasted yet again. (i am a beginner). so far i had been wasting money on the birds.
    these are my unlucky encounters -
    a) bought a wild bird at $250 - not good, fear of people, repertoire is limited and repetitive.
    b) disaster with 2 taimongs - one developed a growth in head and the other turned out to be a female.
    c) bought $500 young adult. disappointed, song not as good as i had anticipated. sigh....$$$$
    d) bought also a taimong...will have to wait again....

    so there is some stress and plenty of disappointment that came with my new love of the shama birds.....
    for some reason one might think with all those money that was spent, one could had make a one big investment on a really good specimen, but then again as a novice how am to be sure that it will be a good bird as claimed by the "birdshop". in the first place i do not like to outlay a big amount on a pet i sounding rubbish and making no sense. so here goes is my unusual feedback to you. songbird keeping is beginning to be a disappointment....

    but but i just cant let go, i am still looking for that dream shamabird.....

  2. In case you haven't heard, someone recently spent $16,000 on a single captive bred shama, $10,000 on a wild caught and another $10,000 for 2 more young captive breds from jeff's friend all within a couple of months. He already had many at home. He is happy with his purchases and not disappointed at all and still looking for better birds to buy. It is part and parcel of the hobby to be unsatisfied with what you have and always looking for better ones.

  3. that is really big money! that can also meant that owning a "good bird" is for those who are well heeled and have the dollars.

    small time bird lovers just have to salivate...and be contented. want to be among the owners of top birds...get your dollars ready?

    so now i know this is what songbirdkeeping is about. be contented, part and parcel of birdkeeping...

    to way to go is to pay more if one want to smell or hear the singing of topbirds....thanks 2nd commentator for sharing your view and thoughts...

  4. hi jeffrey.
    i guess the comments so far have deviated from the intended nature of the really appreciated 3rd part series of your thoughts on the captive shamas. wonder what are your thoughts though about the search for good singing shamas in singapore, dollars included.....

  5. It is not matter of how rich you are. Some ppl willing to spend on a hobby, some not.

    Latest news on price of shama: Ppl offering $60,000 for a long tail breeding pair but nobody wants to sell.

  6. [hi jeffrey.
    i guess the comments so far have deviated from the intended nature of the really appreciated 3rd part series of your thoughts on the captive shamas. wonder what are your thoughts though about the search for good singing shamas in singapore, dollars included.....

    Hobbies like this one will always be influenced in some ways by the trends and fancies of hobbyists at any period of time. It is true that there is a current trend for well-bred long tailed birds. 5 figure sums are paid for these and not without good reasons - there aren't very many around.

    If your criteria is just good singing, I would guess that the current price for a wild-caught short tailed bird to satisfy this would be around the region of a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.


  7. I strongly believe that shamas as a song bird will always be a song bird and there are no poor quality bird. This is because I have not come across one that is of poor quality in my keeping of this bird. We need to give the bird time and teach it to sing well. Maybe I am lucky to own one that is a good singer. Do not give up, take good care of your birds and you will be rewarded. Learn from Jeffrey and other grandmasters like him.

  8. The second guy seems like one those loud and snobbish ah beng who just because they have years of songbird rearing behind them like to put down newbies with their "not unheard off in singapore bird fratenity" with their boast and insensitive remarks whenever new hobbyists post a sincere honest question to those that they respect, good people like you sir. Even a shoolboy will knows that good thing comes with a price. The question by the newbie no doubt can be sensitive for one to answer especially if one is well known in the bird circle among breeders and birdshop owners. All said, you are a good man, respect and hats off to you.

  9. To enjoy the hobby, one has also to be able to understand and embrace the culture that revolves around it. As with most things, pride of ownership can be bought. I think it is a good thing to be informed of the current prices, after all, monetary value is an important driving force behind most popular hobbies despite being called hobbies. All said, I think there is always an ah beng inside everyone of us....must be the asian genes I think...hehehe.