Monday, January 12, 2009

Shama Chicks

Sun, Jan 11, 2009

Hi David,

This time I have two questions that you certainly can reply as with all the other questions. It is about cocker up shamas and breeding in Asia.

A good friend of mine has a lot of experience in keeping birds and he has kept hummingbirds very successfully for decades. Recently we discussed on hand rearing and he said that moisten the feed with human saliva is the absolute prerequisite for a good rearing. I am a different opinion. I too have been feeding insects and wetted them sometimes in the tweezers with saliva, but only to wet it for it slides better. Any difference in moistening with water I could not detect. My friend says that in human saliva are digestive enzymes, etc. that would help the young bird in digesting. I, however, know that in saliva, above all, is the sugar (glucose) enzyme for faster splitting up and facilitate the digestion, but this does not function with proteins that are only degraded in the stomach. Moreover, there is the danger of possible infection of the chicks by human pathogen germs (reverse path of bird flu) so that a breeder rather should refrain from moisturizing with saliva. Surely, in most cases there will be no adverse consequences, but the benefit is certainly rather limited. In Germany, this method of cocker up has been known for centuries and it is also propagated in our days. Do you have experience in Asia with such moisturizing?

Secondly, my friend claimed: In Asia, especially with wild shamas the eggs are taken out of the nests, then hatched in incubators and reared by hand. I think this is not correct because when the bird-catcher already found a nest they would wisely wait until the chickens are bigger so that rearing is much easier. Moreover, I cannot imagine that there are so many wild shamas yet, that the eggs can be taken off on a large scale. I think this is a fairy tale or a bias.

I look forward to your answer.

Thanks in advance for everything and
best regards

Reply, Monday 12 January 2009

Hi Herbert,

As you know, human saliva has enzymes which assist in the digestion of fats and carbohydrates. For hummingbirds which feed their young with a mixture of nectar and insects, there may be some basis for thinking that it may be useful to add human saliva to the rearing food to assist in the digestion of the carbohydrates and fats. However, I would agree that the benefits are probably limited.

In any event, the diet of shamas is different and it is unlikely that adding saliva will improve its digestibility. The emphasis in hand rearing food for shamas is that it must have very high levels of protein. This is indicated by the diet of the shama in the wild which consists almost wholly of vertebrates and invertebrates. As protein, rather than carbohydrates, is the main component of the baby shama's food, there is much less carbohydrates to digest and I doubt that the addition of human saliva would meaningfully improve the rearing food for baby shamas.

My thinking is reinforced by the manner in which the parent shama birds prepare the food for the chicks. When the chicks are 1 to 3 days old, the parents shred the insect into smaller pieces (if it is too large) or soften it with the tip of the beak. In other words, the food is not mashed in the beak to an extent that it will mix with the saliva. As the chick gets older, say to 6 days or so, the parent will merely kill the insect, frog or fish and immediately feed it to the chick.

For chicks that are 1 to 2 days old, I dip the food into electrolytes as this is recommended by several keepers of small softbills. Thereafter, I merely dip the food in water before feeding the chicks. As far as I am aware, nobody in Asia adds saliva to the rearing food for shamas or other softbills.

As regards taking shama eggs from the wild and hatching them in incubators, I would say that this is highly improbable. For one thing, trappers of birds for a living in Asia live close to the jungle and they are not well off to even afford an incubator. More importantly there is no need to hatch the eggs in an incubator when the parent birds can look after the chicks for them.

There are 2 main ways in which shamas chicks are obtained from the wild. The first method involves the trapper providing artificial nest boxes for the shamas. Just before the birds commence nesting, the trapper will bring bamboo sections into the forest with holes cut in them. These nest-boxes are placed at locations that the trapper knows from experience, the breeding pairs are likely to use as their nesting sites. He then visits the sites from time to time over the next few weeks to check on progress, taking care not to alarm the birds by his visits.

As the nest-boxes are ideal for the shama and their locations have been carefully chosen by the trapper as sites that the birds would themselves have chosen, most of the boxes are quickly occupied by the breeding pairs. When the trapper assesses that there are chicks in the nest and they are several days old, he removes the chicks and hand feeds them. After they fledge, he releases all or most of the females as they have little commercial value and keeps the male chicks for sale. In this manner, the skilled trapper can easily harvest several hundred male shama chicks each year.

The other method of obtaining shama chicks from the wild is to trap them. Unlike trapping adult male shamas, decoys have limited value in trapping fledglings. This is because the fledglings will not descend to contest with the decoy. Instead, a fine net is placed along the path that the fledglings are likely to take in their flight and they are then chased into the net.

Best regards,



  1. Bro David, bolehkah saya mengambil foto-foto dari blog ini ataupun dari untuk saya pasang di blog saya (
    Tentu saja, saya akan menempatkan link ke blog ini dan juga ke pada foto yang saya pasang.
    Mohon untuk kapan-kapan berkunjung ke blog saya ya?
    Terima kasih.
    Duto Sri Cahyono

  2. Bro, mau menambahi.
    Selain foto-foto, artikel-artikel di sini bolehkan saya translate ke Bahasa Indonesia dan saya pasang di blog saya? Seperti terlihat dari blogstat di blog saya, di sana banyak pengunjungnya tetapi sebagaimana saya, kebanyakan masih awam mengenai murai batu ekor panjang dari Malaysia.
    Terima kasih.
    Duto Sri Cahyono

  3. Hi David,
    Are you able to put me in touch with Herbert? I am interested in keeping shama and I know that the Singapore Government would not permit any shamas to be exported out of the country. I hope I will be able to get it from Herbert as he is in Germany.Thank you.

    Best Regards