Thursday, November 26, 2015

Song master for shamas

Following my Facebook post on the conditions that are required for the captive shama to have a good molt, Harnono Taufik asked about “mastering” during the molt. Mastering or “masteran” is a system used in Indonesia to teach captive shamas to learn new songs. Greenleaf birds, lovebirds, canaries and other songbirds are placed close to the shama during its molt to be song tutors for the shama.

The molt is a quiet time for the shama as it goes through the arduous process of getting a new set of clothes and it is a good time for it to learn new songs.  However, it is quite capable of learning new songs at other times.  The shama, as a species, is classified as an “open ended learner” i.e. it has the ability to learn new songs throughout its life. This is well borne out by my captive-bred 15 years old shama, Ballet Dancer, who readily learns new songs and can surprise with a song that I may never have heard.

Another thing to note is that the songs are learnt and sung over months or years, or, sometimes for only a short period and never heard of again or it may re-emerge at a much later date.

Most Indonesian shama hobbyists are interested only in its song and nothing else matters. The bird’s structure, display, feather condition and tail length have no bearing in the competitions that they hold. Competitions may last for only 20 mintues with points awarded solely for the variety of the bird’s song with more points being awarded for the more desirable songs such as that of the lovebird.

In other parts of South East Asia, the hobbyists are interested not only in the shama’s song but also in its display and a competition may last for 1½ hours or more.  This is where the shamas with longer tails can put up a more eye-catching display as they wave their tails.

Since the contests are not judged solely on the bird’s song, hobbyists in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam do not have a practice of mastering their birds in the way the Indonesians do. In these countries, the shama tends to sing its “wild” song i.e. the song that it learnt while in the forests or that it picked up naturally in captivity. Many hobbyists in these countries in fact prefer such song to the trained song of some Indonesian shamas.

While we do not specially train our shamas to sing, there is no reason to think that they are any the less capable of learning songs than the Indonesian shama.  My early mentor on shamas, Mr. John Yim was an accomplished whistler and used to whistle the opening parts of the “Happy Birthday” and “Bridge on the River Kwai” songs to his birds.  The result was that they learnt to whistle these tunes with surprising accuracy.

Below is a photo of DDS418, partway through his first molt.

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