Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feeding Shamas by Jeffrey Low - 30th September 2008

The post below was first published in August 2007

Here are some of my thoughts on feeding shamas based on my limited experience and knowledge.

Of all the necessary nutrients needed by our shamas in captivity, I am most concerned with the following three: protein, fats and calcium. This is not to say that the rest are unimportant but it is in my opinion that overfeeding or underfeeding these three nutrients is the usual cause of many problems in our captive shamas.

Where a shama is already eating on its own and not being handfed, there should not be be any worries that you may be overfeeding your bird by having food available at all times. I would think that the only time you need to worry about overfeeding would be during the period that you are hand-feeding a nestling. When the bird self-feeds, it will not overeat. Of more concern would be the quality of the food offered.

Live food:
The live food you are feeding will be superior in protein. However, if it is made up of only insects, than this portion of his diet will be lacking in calcium. If live insects form a major part of his diet, you will have to supplement with calcium, especially so in your case as it is a very young bird.

Dry food:
I would think that an ideal dry food for caged shamas should contain about 10% fats, 0.5% to 1% calcium and 30% to 40% protein. Some of the dry food available to us commercially may be too high in fats. In this case, the bird may only need to eat very little to satisfy its caloric requirements and may stop as soon as this is fulfilled. This may not be enough to cater for its nutritional requirements. It is in my opinion that the shama in captivity seldom overeats and are more often undernourished in this way. For this same reason, the dry food must also be palatable to the bird or the bird must be trained to like it. It is of little use offering a high grade dry food if the bird will not eat enough of it.

On its own, the live food portion of the diet will contain sufficient protein to cater for the need of the bird. If the dry food contains lower than the ideal protein level, you could enhance this portion of the diet by adding protein-rich ingredients into it.

Some live food may contain high fats e.g. mealworms. These should not form a major part of the livefood portion of the diet. Worse of all would be feeding insects high in fats in combination with a dry food also high in fats. A practical approach if insects high in fats are used will be to ensure that the dry food portion is low in fats, in order to have a more balanced total diet.

Most insect are low in calcium. If insects form only a small portion of the total diet and the dry food contains sufficient calcium to offset this, there will be no need to supplement the diet with calcium. On the other hand, if insects form a major part of the diet, you may have to supplement. This can be given directly to the birds or by gut loading the insects. If small live fishes are given as part of the live food, there may not be a need to supplement. The total diet will have to be looked at in order to decide how much to supplement or not to supplement at all. .

Different birds will fare differently when fed on the same diet. This is partly due to different needs of each individual bird at different stages of their lives. An active young bird kept in a spacious aviary will require higher protein and fats in its diet in order to cater for its growth and activities. A molting bird will need a diet higher in protein to replace the feathers (this is better provided by increasing the amount of live food with a corresponding calcium supplementation if necessary, than to change its dry food). A breeding female will require much more calcium in its diet than a male and so on.

Much has been said about trying to emulate the wild natural diet as being the best way to feed our birds in captivity. It is impossible to do so due to the lack of varieties available to us. In my opinion, it is also not correct to assume that the shama in captivity will have the same requirements as those in the wild. Also, I believe that whatever we can observe from the wild is really, only a very small fraction of the whole picture. Constant observations of the conditions of the birds under our care may be tedious and time consuming but could also be enjoyable and quite often a better and most practical route towards a better understanding of their needs and requirements.