[The article below was first published in the June 1983 issue of Singapore Aviculture (a publication of the Singapore Avicultural Society). It is published here with the consent of the author]
Shama As A Competition Song Bird In Singapore
Sharing of experience
This article is intended to share my experiences in Shama keeping with other fanciers and I sincerely hope that members of the Society will, in return, provide more information on their experiences for the benefit of our members.
In Singapore, there are four categories of competition birds namely:
When these imported birds are trained, they soon loose their fear of man and are then put to task to compete in the singing abilities.
The bird singing competitions are organized by the local clubs or the Community Centers of the Singapore People's Association. Each competition generally attracts about 450 to 600 entrants.
Normally, under the Shama Section, one can see 90-120 birds competing for the six top trophies and nine consolation trophies for the 7 to 15 positions. The birds are judged throughout a two hour period by a team of four judges who rotate their duties, thus judging up to 30 birds at half hour intervals.
The judging is based on the quality and variety of songs, loudness, stamina, display and the physique of the birds for which the following points are awarded:-
The wild Shamas breed from April to July, so one can buy young birds from dealers or shops after May of each year.
Most fanciers generally select their young birds by judging their body lengths, legs, tails, wing carriages, feather qualities, size of heads, eyes, standing positions, health of birds, etc, but in spite of this thoroughness many will end up disappointed. There is no guaranteed method to judge whether a bird has competition quality or not at this early stage due to the fact that even birds from the same nest can differ in qualities.
Some fanciers buy only from reliable sources, so the chances of having good potential youngsters from the identified wild breeding pairs are greater. The young birds are then kept under observation for at least six to nine months or even longer before they are selected again. Very often, an ugly duckling can turn out to be a handsome Shama after its first molt.
Impression of fine quality
The healthy youngsters will change into their adult plumage within 6 to 7 months time. A bird with the head, neck, body, wings, legs and tail in symmetrical proportions and constantly displaying movements coupled with the flickering of its tail will capture the attention of the judges who will award points for 'display' and 'physique'.
Quite often an attractive bird can so impress the judges that it is awarded more points although the strong points are actually not song-related.
Song of the Shama
It is very difficult to find yearlings that can sing in a thrilling manner. Birds with good clear natural songs plus the ability to imitate the songs of other birds are normally the 'variety' songsters. The loudness of song and the ability to reach the rounded notes can improve with time. The birds will perform their best after they are 2 to 4 years old.
Generally, birds with excellent tonal quality may not have advantages in competition due to the judging being held in a noisy environment with the birds being placed too close together. It is a difficult task to pick a melodious songster from the chorus.
A good contesting performer usually has a very loud high pitched voice consisting of many rolling notes. The bird that can sing freely for four rounds without fear of the crowd, noise or other strange birds will meet the judges' commendation.
Place the bird in a snug corner away from other Shamas. The restless bird during its full song period will not get exhausted. The bird needs a lot of rest.
A full song bird will get excited easily because of noise, strangers or other birds. It will sing harder than normal. Outdoor training for half an hour each day could improve the stamina of the bird before competition.
It is advisable to buy the largest (21 inches diameter) Shama cage for the young Shama. This space is beneficial for the bird's physical development.
The cage should be placed in a snug corner of the room which is free from draughts and direct sunshine.
The training of song birds depends very much on personal preferences. Some may like to teach their birds to whistle passages of songs whilst others may like the birds to pick-up a few notes from the wild birds in the garden.
I am of the opinion that good singing abilities are inherited. A monotonous singer can be improved slightly in its ability to sing a variety of songs after training but can never be developed into an excellent songster.
It is recommended that potential songsters should be allowed to develop their own natural song in the early stage without special training. A healthy bird can twitter melodiously for hours. To avoid distraction, the cage can be half-covered with a cloth cover for 2 to 3 hours per day. The voice box of the bird can thus be well-developed before the first molt.
By the months from October to December, the young birds will start to molt. Since the rolling type of song is favored by most people, a few singing canaries or Shamas with rolling songs can be used as tutors during this period. Tapes of outstanding songsters can also be used as training aids.
Normally, a well-kept youngster will react aggressively towards other strange birds after the first molt (6 to 10 months old). The frequency and volume of song will increase gradually. When the bird is at peak condition, the roof of the mouth will turn from pale red to dark red or black in color. It will then be the best time to judge the songster on song or its potential as a good performer in the singing contest.
The next stage of training is to condition the bird to get accustomed to strange environments, crowds and other birds. The normal practice is to bring the bird out often to places where the fanciers gather to train their birds. A well-trained Shama will commence singing as soon as it hears the songs of other Shamas and in some cases even the songs of other species of birds.
Natural behavior of Shama
The birds are shy and quiet before the nesting period. They will be out of sight after the breeding season. During June, July and August, the birds with nestlings are aggressive and responsive to people who move into their boundaries. The song of the male birds is loud and forceful at this stage.
In the case of cage song competition birds, they normally take 2 to 3 months to complete their molt and will reach their peak condition gradually after 2 to 5 months time. They can perform well in song competition during this period.
The causes for birds not performing well in competition are normally due to overfeeding of rich food, change of food, overtraining etc.
Shama in future
As birds with outstanding songs and physical characteristics are rare, it is necessary to preserve the strains of the fine songsters through captive breeding.
The author with his prizes and champion birds. Note the length of tail of the Shama in the foreground.
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