Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Red-whiskered Bulbul (Merbak Jambul)

My home seems to be ideal for keeping the Red-whiskered Bulbul, known locally as the Merbak Jambul (or Jambul for short). I have tall buah cherry trees in my garden and the wild Jambuls come almost daily to frolic in the trees. Thus, the conditions to raise the Jambul's form are present right in my own home.

Until the past few weeks, I had never seriously thought of keeping a Jambul, my primary interest being the Shama.  However, my friends were frequently visiting me with their Jambuls for training and I would join them, but, not having a Jambul of my own, the conversations were less interesting than they could be.

I finally told my Jambul crazy friend, Michael, that I would like to try a Jambul.  As always, I would want a first class bird. He counselled that I should start at the bottom with what is known locally as a "ladung bird" i.e a Jambul that is chosen from amongst a bunch of other Jambuls from a large cage at the bird-shop. This would enable me to get the necessary experience in Jambul keeping and also help me to decide how serious I intend to be. It was good advice and last Saturday found Michael, Darren and I at the Teck Whye bird shop.

This bird shop specialises in Jambuls and Mata Putehs (Oriental White Eyes). It had about 1,000 Jambuls and 2,000 Mata Putehs for sale.  The birds are housed in ladungs with about 30 Jambuls in each Ladung.  We spent about an hour looking at the Jambuls. Finally, Michael decided that I should start with a Jambul that had been selected about a month earlier and kept by his brother-in-law who was also at the shop. The price was S$250.00 which was the same price I would need to pay for a Jambul from the ladung.

I have been told that my ladung Jambul will need to be kept for at least 2 to 3 molts before it can realise a good part of its potential. Generally speaking, the Jambul will be at his best when about 4 to 5 years of age or older.  This seems like a long time, at the end of which the owner may find that his Jambul has only limited potential and not what he had hoped for.

In the many years that I have known my Jambul keeping friends, I have learnt a lot from them.  Of course, what I know is only theory and theory can only take one so far without practical experience.

Below are the things I know, or think I know, about what makes a desirable Jambul, and their faults, as kept by fanciers in Singapore. Bear in mind that the information is with regards to Jambuls housed in "A" type cages (as seen in the video below).

The ideal Jambul is almost impossible to find as it must have all the qualities that are desired of a Jambul. These include the ability to keke, fan its tails and pump to the top of the A cage. I consider them below but bear in mind that I have only some theoretical knowledge and hardly any practical experience.

1.  The Jambul must be able to constantly "pump" (jump) from its perch to the top of the cage.  A bird that pumps three-quarters of the cage cannot be top class.

2. It must pump confidently and should not bend its head to look up before pumping.

3.  It must also descend confidently and must not look down before descending.

4. It should not constantly "play" the cage from side to side. Doing so occasionally is permissible, say, 10% side play and 90% pumping to the top of the cage.

5. When the bird ultimately comes into form it should be able to keke.  This is the challenging call of the Jambul. The keke should be long (over several seconds). The effect of a fierce and long keke can intimidate the surrounding Jambuls in a competition.  This is something that few Jambuls have.  The Jambuls in the Youtube videos all seem to have very short and not fierce keke.

6. The tails should constantly open fanwise, at times opening and closing rapidly, when the bird performs.  This is another thing that is not readily seen in the Youtube videos.

7.  Other birds should not be kept below the Jambul. It is a curious bird and will tend to descend to the cage floor to peep at the bird below, even if it is of a different species. This ultimately adversely affects its performance.

8. The Jambul should not sleep on its food and water cups at night. Doing so may cause the tails to be damaged by constant abrasive contact with the cage bars.

9. It should also not sleep by clinging to the bars at the top of the cage as, to do so will tire the bird and it will not be able to perform at its best.

Armed with the above theoretical knowledge, I took my Jambul home in an "A" cage.  At late evening, I removed the cups from the cage and covered the cage with the cage cloth for the night.

When I checked the Jambul a half-hour later, it was sleeping at the top of the cage.  This was a problem that needed to be resolved. I figured that if the cage was hung high with a small light in the room and, instead of covering the cage completely, I left the bottom part open, the bird would be able to see that it was high above the ground and not feel the need to perch on the bars at the top of the cage. I did so and all seemed to be well when I went to bed 1 1/2 hours later.

When I awoke sometime during the night, the bird was again sleeping at the top of the cage.  I felt that if I could get the bird to feel that the top of the cage was not a safe place to sleep at night, it would not want to do so. I switched on the light and gently felt the outside top of the cage until I came into contact with the feet that were gripping the bars.  This gave a mild surprise to the bird and it descended to the perch.  It was still on the perch the next morning.

I repeated the action the following night.  By yesterday, the bird seemed to know that it was undesirable to sleep at the top of the cage and it roosted on its perch the whole night.

From my experience with shamas, I figured that in order to bring up the Jambul's form, it would need to regard the part of my home where it is kept, as its territory.  My practice is therefore to hang its cage at the same spot in my home in the day and night except for the mornings and evenings, when the cage is hung in the same spot on the buah cherry tree in my garden.

The video below shows the Jambul in my garden this morning. The wild jambuls came to visit but they were not in form and remained high in the tree without calling.

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