Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Captive Breeding - 30th September 2008

The post below was first published in October 2007
We need to assume that the focussed breeder knows what he is doing. Lets say that the knowledgeable shama breeder is trying to breed for specific features. History has shown that in every instance where man has tried over time to produce birds and animals to emphasize certain traits that he desires, he has always succeeded. Ultimately, the wild birds and animals of the species cannot compare meaningfully with the bred birds with regard to the features that man has bred into his birds.

The canary has been captive bred for several hundred years. Is there anyone today who can reasonably claim that the song of the wild canary is preferable to the canary as we know it? The song canary illustrates that we can, over time, produce the type of song that we prefer. Thus the Spanish Timbrado has the bell-like voice that is characteristic of the type; the Roller has the whispering song that can hardly be heard across the room, and the Waterslager has the somewhat wild song that I especially like.

BTW, I should mention that I have always gone out of my way to learn from those who had something to teach. In my younger days, I used to spend weekends and sometimes weekdays at John Yim's home to learn about the shama. When I was interested in breeding canaries some 25 years ago, I took the train to Yorkshire, England, on a winter's day to have tea and discuss breeding Rollers with a champion breeder.

Let's move on to another feature - courage and aggression. Selective breeding has produced the various fighting dogs. The bull dog in times past was bred to fight the bull. It's present short snout was produced so that it could have a better hold on the bull. These dogs would throw themselves on the bull and many would be killed. Then there are the fighting cocks that will continue to try to finish off their opponents even when death is rattling in their throats.

Perhaps we look for speed in our animals. Here again we have examples from the animal and bird world that show us what can be achieved. We have greyhounds, race horses and racing pigeons. For the purposes for which they were bred and trained, I don't think that their wild relations can come anywhere close to them.

I could go on and on but I think I have provided sufficient examples of what has been achieved to put beyond doubt that where man has wanted badly enough to breed certain characteristics into his animals and birds he has always succeeded.

Now, what do I want to have in my shamas. Long tails is only one of the features. My concentration is no longer on tails. In other words, it is not my desire to produce birds with longer and longer tails. A tail length of 13" or so is sufficient for what I have in mind. Remember, the bird's physique needs to have balance and proportion and an exaggerated tail length will upset it.

Just as important as long soft beautifully curving tails, are song, display, courage, aggression and stamina. I will not go into detail on these features at present but all need to be present in the shama for it to be the bird of my dreams. If any feature is lacking, my dream shama is the poorer for it.

I am applying my mind as to how each of the features can be improved through selective breeding. I am conscious of the benefits and pitfall of line-breeding and inbreeding and take steps to avoid the evils. I still need much time to breed true the features that I desire but I already have with me birds that have much that I am looking for and which encourage me to think that I am on the right track.