Monday, December 16, 2013

Captive-bred shamas in competition

Skyhawk was 2nd (out of about 60 shamas) in the Kebun Bahru Bird Singing Club Shama Competition yesterday.

The competition was supposed to start at 9.00 am but it only began at about 9.40 am with the birds singing in their covered cages during this time. There was then 3 half-hour rounds, at the end of which 30 birds were selected for the final round which took place over 40 minutes. 

Skyhawk’s entry in the competition was the result of a decision that Michael and I made recently that we should try to compete our birds more.  This is necessary to dispel the myth that long-tailed, captive-bred, shamas cannot compete on equal terms with short-tailed shamas in a competition lasting 2 hours or more.  The general belief is that the long-tailed birds will tire more quickly since they have to wave their longer and heavier tails and this adversely affects not only their ability to display, but also their song.

In the past, Michael and I have seldom entered out shamas in competition. In a choice between mating or competing them, we have invariably chosen to breed them so that we can see the quality of their progeny.  

An example is Skyhawk who has hardly been competed.  I have no regrets as I have obtained some outstanding offspring from him.  These include Falcon who embodies practically all that I want in a male shama.  He is more beautiful and more aggressive than his father and he will probably make a great competitor. Unfortunately, I will not be able to compete him anytime soon as he has been mated and the female is presently sitting on eggs.

It must be conceded that a long-tailed shama (with tails of 13” or more) can be expected to tire more quickly than a shama with shorter tails as it takes much more effort to lift the long tails.  Nevertheless, I have reason to believe that this disadvantage can be overcome with selective breeding, nutrition, care and training.  I would like to consider these briefly below.

Selective breeding
Breeders who wish to breed quality shamas should try to breed birds that excel in all departments and they should not confine themselves to just producing long tails.  The first thing to note is that to enable the shama to carry its long tails with ease, the bird should preferably not be too small although I have seen some smaller sized long-tailed shamas that were able to perform magnificently in competition over extended periods. 

A bird that embodies the size that I try to breed in my birds is Falcon.  He is slightly larger than his father.  There is a photo of him elsewhere in this blog.  This larger size (with little fat) should provide room for more muscle to more effectively leverage the longer and heavier tails.

While size is important, it is even more critical that the bird must have a strong character.  This is a characteristic that can also be bred into the birds.  I read in a book on breeding gamecocks that it should be assumed that all characteristics are reproducible.  A strong never-say-die competitor will be able to overcome all odds as his will to compete will cause him to not give up and he will strive to perform at his best even when he is exhausted.  The consistent production of such birds is something that I try to achieve in my breeding program.

A shama intended for competition is an athlete.  As such, it should be fed a diet that will enable it to perform at its best and to have sufficient energy for the duration of the competition.  The diet should not be such as to make the bird fat. I have found that a combination of live insects and a commercially available dry food is best.  Any of the popular dry foods that have been in the market for some time should be suitable. The important thing is to ensure that the bird likes the food and eats well.

Suitable home environment
A suitable home environment for the competing shama is one in which it is isolated and as far away from other singing shamas as possible.  I am told that rich shama owners in Indonesia even go to the trouble and expense of housing their top competition shama in a home in which it is the only shama.  “Jockeys” are hired to look after and to train the birds.  The birds are trained by being surround with other species of songbirds known as “masters”.

For me, it is impossible to have such an environment for my birds as I have about 20 male shamas in my home and some of them are paired and with young.   I therefore need to make do when preparing my bird for competition.  I also cannot use the garden to train the competition bird as this will disturb the breeding birds.  There is also the difficulty of training him away from the home because of the problem of transporting the cage, which may be as large as 30”.

The competition bird will need to be transported from its home to the competition grounds, probably by vehicle.  It should therefore get used to such transportation.  A sign that the bird is stressed by the transportation is that it will have its beak open when the cage cloth is removed and one of the first things it will do is to drink water.

Familiarity with people
I was astonished to see advice given some time back by a local distributer of supplements for birds, that a competition shama should be afraid of people but not of birds. This seemed bonkers to me.  If the shama is afraid of people, it will hardly be able to perform at its best as there are always crowds at a competition.  Even removing the cloth cover from the cage will cause the bird to panic. Also, the judges will be moving around the arena and if the bird is not used to people, it will tend to stop singing or to sing less as the judge approaches. 

I believe that a bird intended for competition should be used to its cage being handled and be familiar with the movement of people around it.  As part of it’s training, the caged bird should be placed from time to time in an area where people pass by.

Training for bird gatherings
The bird that is intended for competition should be used to the close presence of strange shamas. Start with small gatherings and gradually work up to the large gatherings at a chai tio such as at Block 159, Ang Mo Kio, on Sunday mornings where there may be 40 to 50 shamas.

Ability to recover quickly after a competition and consistency
It is undesirable to have a shama that takes a long time to recover after a competition or that is so stressed out by a competition that it goes into moult.  Such a bird lacks courage. What we should be looking for is a bird that has the ability to quickly recover after a competition and that looks forward to competing.  The ability to do so is the result of a combination of genes, nutrition and care.

I will be able to test Skyhawk’s competitiveness, consistency and ability to recover quickly from a competition in 2 weeks as I will enter him in the competition to be held in 2 weeks time (Sunday 29 December).

Birds for future competitions

For next year and longer, Michael and I have picked out a number of young birds that we are tentatively setting aside for competition. The idea is to compete them first and only pair them at a much later date. These birds include Goose, Jazz and some of the offspring from this year.  Amongst this year's promising males are the offspring of Alpha and Killer that Michael is breeding.

We have tested the eldest chick from this couple on several occasions on Sunday morning at Block 159, Ang Mo Kio.  At 5 months of age, he showed no hesitation in singing his primary song and displaying for extended periods in close proximity to the adult birds. He is totally unafraid and if he continues like this, he should be ready for competition after March next year.

I end with a recent photo of Will's male offspring which look promising.

1 comment:

  1. That's a very nice writeup. Thanks alot David. This certainly invaluable and true.