Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Age of Shama for Competition

Posted: Sun Feb 18, 2007 7:10 am Post subject:


How old should a shama be before it is entered for competition?

Let's first briefly consider what is involved in competitions in Singapore. Just before the competition begins, each contestant ballots for the spot where his shama's cage is to be hung. The location of the cage in the competition therefore depends on luck. If a contestant has a fierce bird in good form, he might wish for his bird to be located close to another fierce bird as they will then compete and each bird will give its best. On the other hand, if his bird is not in top form or it is young, he might want less fierce birds around his bird. If he has purchased several tickets for the competition, he will have some leeway as to where to place each bird.

There are 2 schools of thought as to how old a shama should be before it is entered for competition. Some apply the adage that a good shama is a good shama. In other words, age does not matter and so long as the male wears its adult plumage, it may be entered for competition if it has form. My good friend Michael Leong used to belong to this school. In support of his view, he noted that his shama, Super Model had won first prize in competition when it was only 18 months old. The second school, to which I subscribe, is that a young shama should not be placed close to a fierce adult shama. For this reason and especially because of the uncertainty of placement of the cages in a competition, young birds should not be competed. I further believe that exposing a very young shama to competition could have a detrimental effect on him, especially if he is competed at a very young age, such as 18 months.

From my more recent discussions with Michael, I think he has modified his views. He now agrees that a young shama, i.e. one who has only completed 1 or 2 molts from juvenile, is not likely to perform at its best in competition and that birds such as Super Model are exceptions. Even in the case of Super Model, Michael has noted that as it attained maturity, it has tended to display and sing more when in the company of other males. For instance, it was only after SuperModel completed its 5th molt that it started to "play cobra head". This is the term we use locally when a male shama slowly nods and weaves its head from side to side in the presence of other males. Of course, playing cobra head is not necessarily the mark of an adult bird since SuperModel's son played cobra head even when he was a juvenile.

I will illustrate the effect of an aggressive adult on a young male shama. About a week ago, Michael brought Super Model to my home as I was to breed him. Before transferring him to the breeding aviary, we hung his cage at my porch with Dream̢۪s cage about 15 feet away, within sight and hearing of each other. Those of you who have seen the video of Dream at page 35 of Video of Quest will have got the impression that he appears to be a dominant bird. Nevertheless, it is only 8 months old and within a few minutes of hearing and seeing Super Model, he stopped singing. It was clear that he felt intimidated. I then moved his cage further and out of sight of Super Model. He soon recovered and started to sing and display. To me this is illustrative of what happens in the wilds where the young shama will not try to compete against a much older and dominant male. Bear in mind that the territorial song is used to establish and demarcate territory and for a young shama to sing it in the presence of an adult male in breeding condition is to proclaim that the territory is his. No adult shama worth his salt will tolerate the young upstart.

I would liken a shama that has completed its first molt from juvenile to be similar to a boy that has attained puberty but has not reached him prime. He has the hormones that make him want to mate but not the strength to wrest his prize from an adult male. Whilst I have been successful in breeding 10 months old males (BTW I no longer do so), I doubt that a male at this age will have an opportunity to mate in the wilds as he will not be able to contest an older, stronger and more dominant male. This is bourne out by observations in the field where males in the company of females that are trapped are invariably mature adults.

I would like the provide 2 examples of the behaviour of territorial males - one from the animal kingdom and another from a close relative of the shama. A male lion will drive a young male from its territory before it is sufficiently mature to be a threat to it. Thenceforth, the young lion will live on its own or in the company of other young males until it is mature and strong enough to wrest a territory and the harem from an adult male.

The Magpie-Robin is a close cousin of the shama and behaves much like it. Like the shama, it holds a territory and will chase away a male that enters it. I have no experience of Magpie-Robin fights but Louden who has, tells me that the birds are classified according to their age. Thus year old birds are matched against males of the same age. He tells me that a year old male that is matched against a 2 year old male will invariably lose no matter how strong and aggressive he may seem.

Does it make a difference that each shama is in its own cage and cannot get at the other. I think not bearing in mind that fighting is a last resort and in most cases the more dominant male will drive away the lesser merely by singing its territorial song.

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