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.