Monday, June 30, 2008

Shama Training

First posted August 2006

Firstly, I should mention that I presently do not have any shamas that are ready for competition. I have a total of only 9 adult male shamas. Of these, the 6 eldest that would be suitable for competition have been used as studs. Once a male is used for breeding, it is unlikely that he will be interested in competing outside his territory, which is your home.

The other 3 males are Quest, Ideal and Icon. These are young birds that were bred last year. I do not like to compete birds that are too young. While they may perform, their character may be adversely affected by long exposure to fierce adult birds. It's like having an 18 year old boy compete in the ring against an experienced 26 years old boxer.

I had previously concentrated on breeding and not on competition. However, I think it's time that I start to prepare my young males with the view of eventually having them ready for competition when they are older. Competition will enable their characters to be tested. In this respect, I am trying to breed birds that have everything - good song, strong character, excellent display, physique of the type I like, medium soft curved tails and birds that are not "thick-feathered".

With the view of preparing my 3 young birds for competition, I intend to breed them only when they are much older and have been tested in competition.

Now to your question: In considering how long a bird should be exposed to other birds in the arena, you will need to decide what your aim is. Bear in mind that a territorial bird like the shama is under great stress when it is placed amongst other male shamas for prolonged periods.

If the aim is to test the courage and endurance of the bird than of course, it should be placed in a gathering for 2 hours or more. But such tests must not be carried out too often. If the birds are brought to the "chai" place for several hours every week, it is like a boxer being in the ring for a serious fight every week.

Doing so will result in one of 2 things. If the bird has a strong character, it will get so used to other birds in the arena that it will tend to take things easy. It will then never perform at its optimum in a competition. It may win a prize in competition but it is unlikely to be the outstanding performer and win first prize as it will lack the electric spark that makes its song and display spectacular and stand out from all the other birds. This "electric spark" will only be shown when the bird is unafraid of its surroundings and it is not jaded by having been too often in the arena.

On the other hand, if the character of the bird is not strong, the stress in being often in the arena may be so great that it causes the bird to molt prematurely. As about 25% of the bird's weight is comprised of feathers, the hormonal and nutritional requirements of a premature molt and the replacement of 25% of its body weight, will tend to weaken the bird. You will find that it is difficult to bring such a bird into top form.

A bird that is in top form will easily last the period of a competition. In my experience, there is no need to expose the bird to prolonged periods in the "chai" place too bring up its form. In fact, too much exposure to other birds dampens the form.

Often, we spend long periods at bird gatherings not so much to test our birds but rather to enjoy the company of friends with the same hobby as ourselves. If this is the purpose, the cage should be covered with a cloth and kept some distance away from the other birds when the training session is over.

In preparing a bird for competition the following matters need to be attended to. These matters assume that the bird's nutrition and environment are at their optimum, it has completed its molt and is starting to sing and display at home.

A bird whose form is not rising should not be brought to the "chai" place. Such a bird will be intimidated by the presence of the other birds. If the form is rising, a few minutes at the "chai" place will result in a boost in its hormones and improvement in its form.

It is a prerequisite that a bird that is intended for competition must get used to being transported. Otherwise, just transporting the bird in a car, van or taxi will so stress the bird that it will compete at a disadvantage in the arena. Its like giving an athlete a big fright that causes him to hyper-ventilate and then require him to compete in a long distance race immediately thereafter. He just will not be able to compete at his best. In training the bird for transportation, he should be brought out say, twice a week, until he is completely steady and sings while being transported.

Next, the bird needs to get used to having a crowd of people around him. If not, this is another cause for stress as there is always a crowd at the competitions. For such training, the bird may be placed in areas where there are people constantly passing his cage, such as at coffee shops. Initially, if the bird is highly stressed by the presence of people, the period of exposure may be short. This period can be lengenthed progressively until the bird gets so used to people that it does not mind them being around.

Thirdly, the bird should be trained so that he is comfortable and will sing outside your home. This is necessary as a shama will not normally sing outside his own territory in the wild. For this purpose, it may be brought to places such as the Rifle Range Nature Reserve where there are no other shamas except possibly wild ones. After a few outtings, it will have the confidence to sing outside his territory. This was why I brought Quest to Rifle Range and you can see him there in the video.

Finally, the bird will need to get used to actually being in the arena. This need must be balanced with the other requirment that it should not be unduly stressed. For this reason, I usually spend only a short time at the "chai" place. If the bird will not sing when the cage is still covered with a cloth at such a place, it is not going to perform well when the cloth is removed and its cage is placed amongst the other birds. Perhaps it is not ready. In such event, for the sake of the bird it may be better to take it home and try another day.

If the fethaers of the bird are still tight against its body and it is singing and displaying well after 20 minutes amongst the other birds, it will probably be able to last 2 hours or more. There is therefore no need to stay too long and unnecessarily stress the bird.

Whilst I have concentrated on breeding and not competed in recent years, my good friend Michael Leong, has been successfully competing his shamas using the above methods. Out of 6 times that his bird "Bishan Champion" competed, he won 4 times and was 2nd twice. On both occassions when he was 2nd, his points were equal to the winner.

Michael's Super Model, which was bred by me from Godfather, also won first prize at Ang Mo Kio in Ausgust 2004 when he was 18 months old. After this Michael bred him and he has not really been suitable for competition since. However, this bird has an exceptionally strong character and Michael and I have decided that after his present molt is completed in about 3 months, we will not breed him for the time being but will enter him for competition.

Think about what I have mentioned above and decide how much of it is relevant and useful to your own bird and your training programme. I wish you all the best.

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