Friday, June 6, 2008

Why & How I Breed Shamas

Originally posted March 29, 2008

My breeding program is not a commercial enterprise. It was never intended to be. I may have the occasional surplus male for sale but that’s all. In fact, each year, my expenditure on shamas will likely far exceed any return from the sale of surplus stock.

In 2006, I bred 10 males of which I sold 5. In 2007, because I had been busy with my law practice, I bred only a very limited number of birds and just 5 were males.

I intended to keep all of them until after their first molt. However, my friend, William, requested for one to give to his good friend who had asked him to try to get one of my shamas for him. I had no problem parting with a male taimong, selected randomly, for William. I understand that his friend is very happy with the bird.

I have sold one of the remaining four. I have also offered to sell another with top competition potential to someone who competes and who should be able to bring up the bird and maintain it for competitions. Competitions test the bird’s character and ensure that the breeding program is proceeding satisfactorily. I will keep the remaining 2 males as potential breeding stock.

I breed shamas to try to produce specimens that will achieve the ideal that I have in mind. The aim is to produce birds with song, display, courage, structure and feather quality that exceed those of the best wild-caught shamas.

My friends tell me that I have already achieved my aims with birds such as Pretty Boy in 2006 and Longbow from last year but there is always the hope of breeding something even better. I expect that with careful selection of the breeding pairs over time, it will be possible to breed a male that is beyond all expectations.

It is often thought by people with little actual knowledge that the wild shama will always perform better than the captive-bred shama both in terms of song and display. A little common sense will show that this cannot be.

All around is evidence of what can be achieved with careful selective breeding. Every breed of dog known today was bred from a common ancestor. The results were obtained by in-breeding and line-breeding methods. We have the greyhound for speed, the bloodhound to search by scent, the husky to pull sleds, bulldogs with short snouts to fight bulls, etc.

It’s the same with other animals and birds. Those interested in fighting cocks have bred strains that are renowned for their gameness. Pigeons have been bred to race and find their way home over long distances. We have bred specific strains of sheep to produce wool or meat, cows to produce more milk; the list goes on.

And yet notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, it is often claimed that we should not inbreed or line-breed shamas. Amongst other local myths is that whilst captive bred shamas may have good structure, long tails and feather quality they are models and cannot compare to the wild-caught shamas in song, courage and display. Is there any truth in this claim?

The answer is - it depends. If the breeder is able to get the foundation stock of the type that he wants and he knows the principles for in-breeding and line-breeding that need to be applied, and he does so, he will be able to achieve his aims over time.

Otherwise, if he is unable to avoid the pitfalls and he in-breeds or line-breeds indiscriminately, he is going to end up with problems. This is because in-breeding and line-breeding tends to fix not only the desired traits but also the undesirable traits. In other words, in-breeding and to a lesser extent, line-breeding will pass on both the genes of the characteristics that we want as well as those that we wish to avoid.

What do the past successes in breeding the different strains of birds and animals tell us? We should learn that it is feasible to select the characteristics that we want in an animal or bird and selectively breed for the desired traits until they breed true. By “true” I mean that the traits shown by the parents are reproduced in their offspring and their offspring’s offspring.

Thus, if we want to develop birds with good song and display, we would select males with good song and display for breeding. They should be mated with females whose brothers have exhibited good song and display so that we know that the females have the required genes in them. Their progeny should be similarly mated with outcrosses along the way to remedy possible defects until the song and display are fixed.

To successfully breed shamas that sing and display well, we not only need to have a breeding program that selectively mates birds that have the potential to sing and display well but we also need to pay attention to the development of the song and display of their offspring and ensure that they are developed to their full potential.

The song is developed by exposing the young birds to the type of songs that we want them to sing. With regard to the type of display, this seems, like song, to be an inherited trait. The process of choosing and breeding from birds that sing and display well will have to be repeated in each generation until we have a strain that breeds true for song and display. The same selective and testing process is applied to breed for courage, structure, feather quality etc.

Before I end, I would like to say something about tails. It goes without saying that the shama should have long soft tails but how long should the tails be? Well, it depends on what you wish from your breeding program.

If all that is wanted are shamas with long tails, the aim can be easily achieved over a number of years by consistently mating the shamas with the longest tails. How long can the tails grow to? I don’t know, but 2 of the males that I bred have tails exceeding 16” so at least this length is achievable.

However, I have no wish to breed shamas merely with super long tails as such tails have an adverse effect on the display qualities that I would want my shamas to have. At present, I aim to breed shamas with tails of about 13”. This tail length with the required softness will give beauty and symmetry to the bird but will not cause hindrance in the bird’s display.

I was lucky in acquiring Godfather. He is prepotent and each new generation after him has tended to be better than the previous.

This year, I already have 5th generation (F5) chicks from him. They are now only a few days old. I am also having repeat matings of the parents of Pretty Boy and Longbow. Longbow's mother is already sitting on eggs. I have bred Ballet Dancer this year and already have chicks from him. Pretty Boy himself has been mated and the female is sitting on eggs. I await with anticipation to see if there will be one amongst the chicks that is even more desirable than Pretty Boy and Longbow. That will really be something to be happy about.


  1. Hi David,

    Very Interesting.

    Best regards
    Pee Kay

  2. Superb write up. I thought a shama with 8 or 10 inches tail is about one of the longest until you mentioned 16 inches. Amazing. Hope to learn from you. Best regards. Chao Rui

  3. Wow great story and i will also try breed them if possible , now that i am semi retired and living in a 3 storey terrace with a garden full of trees . Cheers

  4. Hello

    Would you please tel me, is it possipple to kep the pair together all 12 month in an aviary at 12 m2. -?

    - Is it possipple to kep the Shanas together with other birds like the Peking Robin ??

    Best regards