Thursday, August 22, 2013

Breeding - Building a strain of shamas

[Updated with additional text, video and photo on 26/8/10]

I have had some success in breeding the type of shama that I dreamed of long ago and today, my birds have developed a long way towards establishing my own “strain”.  My shamas now tend to have similar physical and mental characteristics as well as recognized traits to the extent that I am sometimes told that someone has seen a shama that ".... looks just like one of your birds" with the query as to whether it is in fact one of them.

My limited success has led some breeders, especially those who are new to breeding shamas, to ask what they need to do if they also want to develop a strain of shama. I will try to answer this question below and in subsequent posts.

For a start, you need to be aware that before you can breed the bird of your dreams, you will have to decide on the qualities that you desire in your bird.  Do you just want a bird with a song that is different and more melodious than those of other shamas with the courage to do well in song competitions?  This is a valid aim and it is in fact the aim of many Indonesian breeders who want to produce and train the shama for its song as their competitions are truly song competitions with little regard to other features such as display and structure. If this is your aim, then you will need to look for a bird that has what you want to possibly form your foundation stock on the basis of the principles that I suggest.

In other parts of South East Asia, song alone is not enough and hobbyists look for birds with a combination of qualities, such as good structure, long tails, melodious song, eye-catching display, stamina and courage.  For me, my dream bird needs to have all of these features.  In addition, it should have long tails exceeding 14” that are not too broad so that it will be able to sweep them above its head for extended periods during its display.

Bear in mind that if you are serious about creating your own strain, you will be striving to implement your vision of what you want your birds to be.  This involves much investment in time, money, effort and luck and many generations of birds may pass in your quest to achieve your aim. Over time and with selective breeding, you may be able to develop your own special strain. It obviously takes many years of sustained effort and commitment to do so.  

It has been more than a dozen years since I first paired Godfather and although there are 10 to 15 generations in my present strain of shamas, I am still some way from my dream bird, but that is what makes breeding exciting as each year I hope that from the birds that I breed, there will be the perfect shama. I know, though, that it is impossible to get the "perfect" shama but it is fun to try.

Having made up your mind on the qualities that your dream bird should have, look around for a bird that best fits the mental picture (preferably in video) of the bird you have in mind.   In looking for such a bird, the question arises as to whether it is preferable to breed from a wild-caught or a captive-bred.  It depends.  

If the breeder has really developed a strain of birds, and has the type of bird that you like, it makes sense to acquire a pair of birds from him, or at least an outstanding male or female.  His birds will have a concentration of the genes that you want in your birds and an outstanding bird from him to found your foundation stock will make it more likely for you to develop the type of birds that have similar attributes as his birds.  Later, you may wish to infuse new blood to develop your own strain.

On the other hand, if the breeder has been indiscriminately pairing his birds, or he has not himself developed a strain, then the offspring will have haphazardly inherited genes.  The result is that even if the bird(s) that you get from this breeder is an outstanding specimen, it will be less likely to be able to replicate itself in its progeny. In such case, it really makes little difference whether or not you get a breeder shama from him or you get a wild-caught that also has the features that you like. 

I often have requests for my females and I would like to use this opportunity to state that, as a rule, I do not part with my females.  As I am working towards developing a strain and I am a hobbyist and not a commercial breeder, it does not make sense for me to freely sell pairs that I have invested much time and effort to develop.  This is especially so as a buyer of such birds can acquire a pair and then potentially flood the market with birds that are supposedly from my line and sell them at high prices.  With this in mind, I have made my females (and males) available to only my very good friends, Michael and Jeffrey, whom I absolutely trust with my shamas.  

You will need to bear the above in mind when a seller claims that the bird he is offering for sale is from an established breeder or bred from his strain.  Perhaps, he may have bred something from one of the males that I occasionally sell and that are surplus to my needs but the progeny will not be fully from my strain and may bear no resemblance to my birds.  In such case, the phrase in law is, "caveat emptor" or "buyer beware". Loosely translated, it means that an intending buyer should make his own investigations to determine if what the seller claims is true.

However, if a shama is being acquired from Michael or Jeffrey and you are told that it was supplied by me or that it is 100% bred from my line of birds, you can be sure that it is true.  They are breeding directly from my line from parents that I made available to them and their taimongs are no different from mine.  Moreover, I know them well and will vouch for their integrity any time.

This year, I have made available 6 female shamas to Jeffrey.  Two are adults with 8" tails and 4 are taimongs.  One of the taimongs is Flame’s daughter that Jeffrey himself chose.  It has now moulted and it is outstanding.  With these females (less 1 taimong that Jeffrey released although it wasn't Vesak day) I expect that he will have the stock to breed the bird of his dreams next year.

Jeffrey has successfully mated Funkie this year and he shows a photo of a nest of 3 chicks from Funkie on a forum of which he is the moderator.  Here is a photo of the "pick of the litter".  An outstanding feature is the very large head which is on a defined neck. (Don't blame me for the fuzzy image. Jeffrey's photographic skills are far distant from his bird skills.)

Subsequently, Jeffrey sent me a video of the "pick" at less than one month old.  The video showcases the type of structure and character that we have succeeded in infusing into our shamas.  Note the elegant neck and strong character of the chick even at this tender age.  This chick also showcases well the dominant standing position of birds from my strain.  Unlike many shamas, birds from my strain tend to constantly pose with outstretched necks.  This can be seen in the video.

As for Michael, he only does very limited shama breeding as his primary interest is Jambuls.  Nevertheless, he has an outstanding breeder pair in Alpha and Killer that were both bred by me.  Last year, this pair produced 2 outstanding males, one of which far surpassed our expectations and we were looking forward to it completing its first moult.  Unfortunately, his maid accidentally let it escape and it was not recovered.   

This year, Michael began his shama breeding late.  He now has 5 chicks from 2 nests from Alpha and Killer with more likely to come.  The 3 chicks from the first nest (2 males and 1 female) are now with me.  They are about 50 days old.  They show real promise but being in the aviary it is difficult to properly assess them.

In about 3 weeks when their tails have fully moulted, I will transfer the 2 males to individual cages.  When they have settled down, Michael and I will together choose the male that I should keep for myself.  The other 2 chicks will be returned to Michael although he has generously suggested that I should keep all 3 for myself.

I saw the 2nd nest of 2 chicks yesterday (25/8/13).  They have left the nest but they are still with their parents in the breeding aviary. They are both males and they look exactly like the chicks from the first nest.  This suggests that Alpha is prepotent.

Since my friends and I are not likely to sell our female shamas, the beginning shama breeder will need to decide whether to get only a male from us or to get a pair from another source.  All I can say is that a male from us that is paired with an unrelated female will more likely produce more desirable progeny than perhaps a pair from another source.

The reason is that the generations of inbreeding will result in certain traits being fixed and these are more likely to be passed down, even through an unrelated female. In other words, you are more likely to find a prepotent bird from a breeder who has bred selectively for many generations until he has a strain than from one who does not have a strain.

As an example of what has been achieved by mating a male from an established strain with an unrelated female, below are 2 photos of the progeny of a bird, Max, that I had sold to Agus of Indonesia and the accompanying messages:

"Hi David, how are you doing? I just want to send a pic of Max's kid. Still pushing his tail; the body still plump as well"

"Next is one of Max's daughters"

"Out of the __ Max's chicks some turned out to be quite similar with the father."

"Thank you David, it wouldn't happen without Max. One again, thank you so much."

It will be noted that Agus mentions that some of Max's chicks have "turned out to be quite similar with the father".  This is a good indication that Max is prepotent.

Finally, I would like to finish this post with 2 photos of Phoenix that I took over the weekend.  He is just about to complete his third moult from taimong.  He has had a very good moult and I would have liked to take better photos.  This has not been possible as he is still in the moulting aviary and my view of him is restricted by the small aviary window.

You will see from the photos that Phoenix has a white spot below his eye.  He inherited it from his father, Skyhawk who also has a similar spot in the same location.  Skyhawk is of course prepotent. Remember, I had mentioned that a prepotent bird is one that tends to produce offspring that are as good or better than itself.  I believe that the qualities of Skyhawk's male chicks equal or exceed his.

NB. Jeffrey has just started posting again on his blog. His new post is on his line-breeding with Funkie and Fatina.  Here is the link to his post:


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    1. Hello David,
      I must be out of my mind to have accepted the females from you. Now, I am under tremendous pressure to produce as good as you......sigh.

      I must say though, that you sure know who to pass your good birds to.

      From Melaka with warmest regards,
      Jeffrey Low

    2. Hi Jeff,

      Haven't you always been out of your mind. As far as I know you have always been in sane, haha. On a serious note, I have great hopes that the Funkie pair will produce some special chicks that may be better than anything I have.

      Best regards,

  2. foto yang paling bawah itu ekor nya berapa cm???

    1. I have not measured Phoenix's tails after its recent 3rd moult but estimate the new tails to be about 38 cm. The tails after the 2nd moult were measured at 36 cm.

  3. tanya lagi david...
    Kalau murai batu betina ekor nya bisa sampai berapa cm...?
    Atau anda punya paling panjang berapa cm untuk murai betina...

    ''sorry saya tidak bisa/tidak menggunakan bahasa inggris''