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.

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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I have not been posting on this blog for many months. The reason is that I have a facebook page which I have been updating. For up to date information on my shamas please visit: at

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Longfellow video

This is Pretty Boy's son that was hatched on 2 October 2014.  He is coming to 8 months of age and his form is starting to rise.  He is aggressive and his voice is loud and melodious.  I hope to compete him in due course.

His structure is typical of progeny from Pretty Boy, especially the head.

Friday, May 22, 2015


This is Pretty Boy's son, Longfellow.  He is about 7 1/2 months old and just completing his first molt.  I transferred him from the aviary, where he has been for the past 5 months, to a cage yesterday morning. 

From my observations of Longfellow in the cage yesterday, I think he has the potential to be a top competitor in shama competitions.

There are several characteristics that a top competitor must have. The foremost is that it must be able to withstand the high levels of stress that it will encounter when placed in the midst of many birds when it must be able to perform at its best. Inability to cope with stress can be seen in the bird opening its beak and needing to drink, or fluffing its feathers etc. This is somewhat akin to a person panting from exertion or stress.

Several factors can cause stress to the bird.  Unfamiliar movement from being transported in a vehicle or crowds of people can cause stress.  There is also the stress caused by the presence of the other shamas in the competition.

To an extent, a bird may be trained so that it gets used to stress. This is done by gently stressing the bird for short periods of time initially and gradually increasing the levels of stress as the bird gets used to each stress level. For example, if the bird is not used to crowds, start by hanging the cage in an area at home where people occasionally pass. Also take it out in a vehicle to get it used to its movement.

Stress is different from tameness.  A bird may be unafraid of people and therefore tame but it may still be adversely affected by crowds and by other shamas.

After placing Longfellow in a cage, he seemed to be completely at home in it.  When I carried the cage he was also unconcerned and sang his song.  He displayed, sang and showed aggression when I placed a shama in a cage near it.  A shama that is mentally weak will likely fluff and I never keep such a bird.

I was intrigued by Longfellow as I had never before seen a bird as calm and collected as he was when first placed in a cage.  I took a stick and stress him.  He flew about the cage to avoid the stick but showed no signs of stress.

The other characteristic of Longfellow is that his song is exceptionally loud.  This is important because a loud song intimidates the other birds near it in a competition.  Also, in a competition crowded with birds, a loud song attracts the judge's attention.

How does Longfellow's ability to withstand stress and the loudness of his song compare to Drumbeat, who was champion in a shama competition at the age of 8 months.  Longfellow beats him in both aspects.

There are other requirements of a top competition bird and I have only dealt with 2 of them regarding Longfellow.   Factors such as display, variety of song and stamina will be revealed in due course as he comes into form.  For now, I am very happy to have him and would like to compete him when he is ready.

Another shama that I am keeping my eye on for competition is Skyhawk's son, DDS401.  He is only 6 1/2 months old but he shows promise.  His photo is below:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ziko pairing

Below is a short video of the pairing of Ziko and a female from the DDS line of shamas by Ooi Thean Tatt.  Ziko is a son of Pretty Boy and it was bred by me.  It is now owned by Ooi.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Letter from Honolulu

Eric Dagner's email to me of 5 April

Apr 5 (5 days ago)


I came across your website searching for a white rumped shama 

I would like to share a story with you for insight or to add to your repository
collecting information. 

A few years ago I was clearing an area of land of garbage in suburb very
near downtown Honolulu.  The district is called Makiki on Oahu.  After 
spending some time clearing the land a very young male White rumped 
shama appeared probably just kicked out of the nest. He became named
as Kiki (Makiki). Kiki would come around while land being cleared gobbling
up black beetles, baby centipedes, grubs, worms, termites. moths, 
grasshoppers, fly larvae ect.   For the past 4-5 years I always thought Kiki 
was a female bird.  Maybe it is a male delusion to want to nurture a female.
lol.  As the trees, grass and weeds were being cleared the bird became
fearless of our presence.  Never tried to catch him or his offspring but could
have on many occasions.  I can rake over dirt today with Kiki perched less
than a foot away on look out for beetles and centipedes.  Kiki comes to the
house and demands to be fed (begging) but I love to make him wait to hear
what he has to say.  Sometimes even when there are 40 bugs running
around on the ground he would rather sit in the tree and just chat for no 
reason and that's okay too.

 I just very recently learned what kind of bird Kiki is, a white rumped shama
male, and came across your website.  Just wondering is this a common
relationship people have with wild White rumped shamas?  Or is the 
feeding, weaning of young, trust worth documenting? 

Thank you for your informative website.


David De Souza 

9:12 AM (0 minutes ago)
to Eric
Hi Eric,

I found your email of 5 April most interesting.  The white-rumped shama is 
less interactive with humans than its cousin, the magpie robin which is 
commonly found around the gardens of houses.  However, the shama 
can be lured out to the open by human whistles or recorded songs of 
shamas.  Unlike members of the parrot family that move in flocks and are 
referred to as companion birds as they readily bond with humans if 
acquired at the right age, the shama will not bond with humans in the 
same way.  Nevertheless, it is easy to gain their trust by offering food and
not making any attempts to trap them.

In Singapore, where I am, there are hardly any shamas other than those in
cages and aviaries.  Birds that escape are either trapped or eaten by
predators such as cats.

Your experience of having a shama that is at liberty sing to you close by is 
something that I am sure you enjoy and look forward to.  I am sure that 
people interested in the shama will be grateful if you share photos and 
videos of your relationship with the shama.

Best regards,

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Falcon's chicks

One of my favourite male shamas is Falcon. I used him as a sire for the first time last year when he produced 6 males.  His chicks varied in quality from very good to exceptional. His son, Nighthawk, which has excellent structure and exceptionally long first molt tails exceeding 13", exemplifies the beauty that can be achieved with line breeding.  Another son, Drumbeat, won a shama competition last month at the very young age of 8 months. This proves that with careful selective breeding, long-tailed captive-bred shamas do not lack the necessary courage and stamina to win competitions of the type presently held in Singapore which require the bird to sing and display over more than 2 hours.

In addition to siring progeny of exceptional quality, Falcon is also fecund and capable of producing them in numbers.  Below are photos that I recorded yesterday evening of his most recent chicks.

The first photo shows the chicks asleep.  Their arrangement might look as though I had posed them but this was exactly how they were when I took out the nest-box for the photos. I did so without disturbing the parents.

The 2 largest chicks hatched on the morning of 6 April. The next 2 chicks that are resting on the older chicks hatched on the morning of 7 April and the last chick which is using the 2 older chicks as a pillow, hatched on 8th morning. There was therefore a difference of 2 days between the hatching of the eldest and youngest chicks.

After taking the above photo, I called to the chicks and took the photo below.

When there is a number of eggs in the nest, it is necessary to ensure that all will be properly brooded over. Also, when chicks hatch on different days, there is a high risk that the youngest chick in the nest will be crushed by the older chicks if the space is cramped.  I set out below, what I do to reduce the risk.

I candled the 5 eggs on the 4th day that the female commenced to brood them. All the 5 eggs were fertile but they were somewhat cramped in the small nest cup and were not lying lengthwise as they should.  It was necessary to enlarge the nest.

I use natural broom fibres as shown in the photos and the nest-box itself is slightly larger than a nest would likely be in the forest. To enable the eggs to lie properly in the nest so that all would have an equal chance to develop, I made the cup larger by slightly pressing outwards the broom fibres along the sides of the nest cup. As my nest box is large, I can make the nest cup bigger by quite a lot.

After the first chicks hatch, I check the nest once each day in the evening.  Where necessary to accommodate the growing chicks, I enlarge the cup by pressing the sides of the nest cup outwards a little each day.  As can be seen from the photos, the cup is large, there is no over-crowding and the chicks are comfortable.

Protein and Amino Acids for shamas

I publish below an exchange of emails between Adiko of Indonesia and Jeffrey Low on the suitability of cat food for shamas.

Sent: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 3:45 PM
Subject: Protein and Amino Acids for shama
Hi Jeff..
Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m Andiko from Indonesia.
After I visited your blog, I learned many things, but one thing that most caught my attention is your knowledge about nutrition and food for shama.
Recently, I use a cat food (Royal Canin Exigent 33) for my shamas. In Indonesia, the average protein contained by bird food is about 16-18%. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I think shama needs more protein content than that. Because I can’t found any bird food that has a protein content of about 30%, I try to looking for another options.
After I found your blog, I’m happy because you have the same thoughts about the protein content :D…It gives me a strong reason to increase the protein content on my shama’s food. After all, who would deny the thought of an expert like you J. So,  I’ve relied on the ideal composition based on what you write on your blog (protein 30%, fat 10% and calcium 1%) and the best food that I can find is RC Exigent 33.
I will give the following composition:

Analysis tableAmount
Arachidonic acid (%)0.39
Ash (%)7.5
Biotin (mg/kg)3.47
Calcium (%)1.26
Fibre (%)3.0
Dietary fibre (%)9.6
DL-methionine (%)1.22
EPA/DHA (%)0.38
Fat (%)15.0
Linoleic acid (%)3.57
Lutein (mg/kg)5.0
Metabolisable energy (calculated according to NRC85) (kcal/kg)3690.0
Metabolisable energy (measured) (kcal/kg)3925.0
Methionine Cystine (%)1.71
Moisture (%)5.5
Nitrogen-free extract (NFE) (%)36.0
Omega 3 (%)0.72
Omega 6 (%)4.07
Phosphorus (%)1.16
Protein (%)33.0
Starch (%)29.4
Taurine (mg/kg)2800.0
Vitamin A (UI/kg)27000.0
Vitamin C (mg/kg)300.0
Vitamin E (mg/kg)600.0
Other nutrientsAmount
Arginine (%)1.64
L-lysine (%)1.59
Chlorine (%)0.9
Copper (mg/kg)15.0
Iodine (mg/kg)3.6
Iron (mg/kg)163.0
Magnesium (%)0.1
Manganese (mg/kg)73.0
Potassium (%)0.6
Selenium (mg/kg)0.56
Sodium (%)0.6
Zinc (mg/kg)241.0
Choline (mg/kg)2200.0
Folic acid (mg/kg)12.9
Vitamin B1 Thiamin (mg/kg)16.3
Vitamin B12 Cyanocobalamin (mg/kg)0.17
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin (mg/kg)58.7
Vitamin B3 Niacin (mg/kg)200.0
Vitamin B5 Pantothenic acid (mg/kg)64.1
Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine (mg/kg)46.1
Vitamin D3 (UI/kg)900.0
I also supply my shamas with live food : Cricket, earthworm, Meal worm, beef meal, ants egg and boiled egg yolk. For the supplement, I provide b-complex almost every day.
But I still don’t know if what I did was meet the needs of the amino acids needed by my shamas. Do you think I still need additional amino acid supplement for my shamas?
And how can we know that what we give has been good enough for shama? Do you have any specific method to look at the quality of food for shama?
Please, I really need an advice from a sifu like you. Please forgive me if I bother you with my questions.
Sometimes I can’t hold myself when talk about white-rumped shama.
Kind regards,

From: jeffrey low <>
To: Andiko Hastungkoro <>
Sent: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 4:15 PM
Subject: Re: Protein and Amino Acids for shama

Hi Andiko,

I am happy to receive your email.

I think what you use is excellent. Except that I wouldn't supplement with too much live food or vitamins if I were to use the same. Reason being that the cat food is already formulated to be very balanced in the nutrients and too much supplementation with live food or vitamins may unbalance it. I would supplement with a small amount of live food in the evening, example with 4 or 5 crickets, more for the enzymes present in whole live food than for the protein.

Another point I will like to share with you is that using dry food as the main source means you have to throw out the dry food every few days, and fill up with new ones. This is because when exposed to light and air, the vitamins in them may lose their efficacy due to oxidation. Some bird keepers will just top up instead of refreshing the whole cup with new food and I think that is not a very good practice.

Also, if you grind up the cat food to feed the birds then you have to bear in mind that the drinking water will be easily contaminated by the powdered food because the birds will drink after eating and inevitably, some of the powdered food stuck in the beaks will drop into the drinking water. A good practice is to change the drinking water first thing in the morning, every morning. Overnight drinking water will have very high bacteria count due to the contamination.

You also have to observe your birds to see if the cat food is easily digested and absorbed well. No matter how good the food is, it has to be digestible by the bird in order to get the goodness and the required nutrients from them. Observe the droppings, and there should be sufficient quantity to reflect to you that the bird is eating enough. Observe the condition of the bird, especially after finishing molt and see if they are doing well. If all is ok, your food is ok.

I wish you the best in this hobby.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Falcon's son, Mr. Cool

This is one of Falcon's sons from this year.  I usually do not name my birds at such a young age.  However, this chick seems to be exceptional and I have named him Mister Cool.

He is a good size for a chick of 22 days of age.