Monday, June 9, 2008

Will hand-fed shama chicks be too tame?

In South East Asia where hobbyists compete in bird singing competitions, the general view is that it is not desirable to have birds that are too tame. Such birds tend to descend to the cage floor when they see someone approaching in the expectation that food will be offered. The consequence is that when a judge at a competition approaches the bird to assess it, the bird stops singing and displaying to welcome the approaching person.

The question that arises is "Will hand-feeding shama chicks cause them to be too tame?"

I have hand-fed (rather my wife has) more than a hundred shama chicks, or about half of the shama chicks that I have bred and my opinion below is offered from this perspective.

In the wilds, the parents will feed their shama chicks until they are weaned. Once this happens, the parents will chase away the chicks. The chicks will then find their own way and will cease to be attached or close to their parents.

Whether or not a shama chick that is hand-fed will lose its wildness really depends on how and for how long the chick is hand-fed. Like the birds in the wild, the chick will develop until the stage, say at about the 12th to 14th day, when it will try to peck at the food that is offered rather than wait for it to be placed directly into its beak. To teach the chick to eat on its own, the food should be held so that the chick can peck at it. It takes a little time and effort to get the chick to do so and it is always tempting to try to speed the process by placing the food directly into the beak.
By the 14th to 16th day, the chick will instinctively try to peck at small objects on the floor. This is when small insects should be killed and placed on the floor for the birds to peck. If this is done, in no time at all the chicks will have learnt to eat on their own.

It is important to teach the chick to peck at the food and to eat on its own as there is a limited window during which the chick will learn to eat on its own. When this passes, the chick will continue to beg for food and it will take a long time for the chick to learn to eat on its own. With continued hand-feeding, it becomes imprinted on the chick that it needs to depend on the human feeder for its food and in this way it “loses its wildness”.

After my chicks become independent feeders, I usually transfer them to an aviary. This is done when they are about a month old. They then live and exercise in the aviary with not much human contact and when they are finally transferred to cages, usually after the first moult, they are quite wild and need to be tamed. As they have had human contact, the taming process is not difficult or lengthy. No person has ever commented to me that my birds are too tame or not wild enough.

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