November 20th, 2005

The objective of having YS and introduction of 'target'

Roberta wrote in comment

Subject: Your objective?
Hi Shanlung : )

I have to ask you: what is the objective to having YS? As someone who owns very expressive, emotional fids such as a CAG, Alexandrines, and a Derbyan who talks up a storm - what exactly is the potential of a shama? In other words - can a shama sit on your finger and be happy doing it? Can it show emotions?

I realize you don't really want a bird that is on the same emotional scale as another Tink - and that's why you didn't get the Eclectus....and I understand why.

Your YS looks like a very smart bird, from the pics I've seen of him. I'm asking this totally out of curiosity....because I have seen beautiful finches and other softbills that don't have the ability to really act as if they are "that" attached to their owners.

Or maybe I'm wrong about that....sorry, now I'm not making much sense. I hope you understand what I'm trying to convey?

With best regards to you and Joy,
Roberta : )



Thank you for commenting which allowed me to expand my thoughts even more.

My childhood and earlier part of my life was in Singapore. Shama is a bird commonly kept by people here much prized for his song and beauty.

Since I was small, I have seen shamas with friends and even at home as my elder brother tried to keep shamas. His shamas, sadly, never seemed to remain alive for long. So you can see, my interest in shama was already kindled by my living in South East Asia for a long time.

Shamas are traditionally kept in cages, or even better still, in aviaries.

They have never been thought of as companion or as friends.

After my time with Tinkerbell, and the knowing of my bird whisperer friend from Tsaoling, I thought of perhaps having a shama. I obviously would not wish to have him in a cage and thought perhaps that there may be more to shama than what conventional thoughts have set them to be.

There have been much changes in the mindset of mankind too. I had thought that grizzly bears are huge mindless brutes until I saw a documentary on Doug and Lynne Seus and Bart the bear who became part of his family. That was totally unthinkable until Doug did it.

We had thought the great white sharks are another mindless JAWS to be approached only in steel shark cages until recent documentaries showed
us GW sharks can be approached outside the shark cages and interacted with. That again was totally unthinkable before.

Who would have thought of taking a CAG out for a ride on a bike ? or taking a CAG out with us on holidays to mountains and forests and seashore? :-)

If I had not done that, there will be many self appointed experts to prove without any doubts that parrot, especially shy nervous CAGs, can never be taken out on harness.

As you have seen, even with what I have done, that did not stop detractors from
condeming what I have done as cruel and stupid. Interesting how people who
are unable, or incapable, to do what I have done can have that kind of knowledge to judge what I have done. Those people throw out the baby and blame the bathwaters.


More and more, I am no longer able to define what is intelligence and what is sentience, and for that matter, what is mindlessness. Sorry to say, Tinkerbell showed me more intelligence than some humans I encountered.

Perhaps those are all prejudices from our earlier ignorance. After all, we thought once that Earth was at the center of the Universe.

So when Yingshiong presented himself, and with the conditions attached, I thought its time I get the shama that I had been thinking of since I was a kid.

The difference is the knowledge I acquired since then.

Even so, based on all that I was told, I gave myself a 5% chance of success when I started. If I had not known my friend from Tsaoling, I would not even have tried.

As with the case of harness usage on a CAG, I find I am again on a very lonely road never walked on and without anyone to guide me.

Since then, it became clear to me YS is not only intelligent, but he loves to interact with me, in his own way. Shama required very very delicate handling. They are so timid and shy, even more than I thought they were.

I had to 'invent' new technigues , many times, in desperation, and with no certainty that it will work,

I described our nightly rituals, he would call me. I need to respond to him before he go to sleep on a perch looking in at me. You read of my report on how he called me to him instead him quietly eating up the whiteys (that he loved) after he spilled them on the floor. There have been much more interactions than what I wrote about.

Perhaps those finches and softbills that you saw were never thought of being able to interact and never given the chance to interact, and therefore, were never seen to love to interact. A kind of self-fulling sad prophecy for them.

My reports are already long, and there is always a limit to what I could report on. Some of them are nuances I could not find the words to describe. Like the way YS flew towards me and veering in a figure of eight to go elsewhere. Or the way YS took a bath, flew over me to sprinkle me with water and flew back to the bath again. The way he sang softly to me while waiting for me to get the suri for him.

Shama is not likely to bond as dog or parrot. The bonding is much more like that of a cat and a lot more subtle than even a cat. But I keep cat :-), and now I am learning with a shama.

I now double my chances of been eventually able to take YS outdoors like Tinkerbell, from 5% to 10%.

But for YS to graduate to the apartment from the flight room, I rate my chances of 40% now.

Even if I am overwhelmed by the 90%, it is already very clear to me shamas are very intelligent, and will interact with man if we approached this with great care and sensitivity, and knowing their terms.

And if I failed? the blame must be on me, and not on Yingshiong. I have respect and regards and friendship for Yingshiong. I do not have the love for Yingshiong the way I have for Tinkerbell. That will affect the bonding with YS, and no fault of YS at all.

Why do I do this? I do not know. Hopefully , even if I failed, what I have done may get others to respect and treat their birds even better. And that they are not just pets, but companions and friends as well.

What is the potential of a shama?

Then I ask what is the potential of a brand new piece of paper where
the scribbling only just started on it, or the image is just an incipient glimmer in the mind.

If I do not even know how the answer will be, can I even ask the question?

Maybe we should just sit back and relax and see how the future unfold.


If you need to ask what 'target' is, then read

and the stuff I wrote on clicker training in Tinkerbell's webpage.

This morning, YS MM was weighed at 39.6 gm indicating YS did not eat much of it. Since I started recording the food that YS ate, I noticed on some days he might not eat much and then he ate more of it the next day.

YS morning weight was 34.6 gm. It became so much easier to weigh him ever since I used the clicker , and with the click, he remained still on the scale while I slowly give him a whitey.

I threw away the MM and gave him fresh MM at 39.9 gm.

He was less jittery today on my sitting closer and closer to him. He did flew off to high perch once or twice, and into the cage once or twice in the morning.

I got nearer, sometimes sitting on the stool, or standing up. At all of those times, I spoke softly to him in advance, telling him what I was doing. My fingers went closer to him, almost, but not quite touching him yet.

I thought it was not the right time to introduce him to 'step up'. Rushing him might spook him and set me back.

Then at about lunch, his MM was weighted to be 39.7 gm and YS at 36.0 gm

In the afternoon, I decided to introduce the target for him today.

So far to date, the clicker is passive for him. In that he did not have to do anything to get his click and treat, requiring no deliberate actions on his part.

The 'touch target' is where he need to actively do something to get his click, and treat.

I do believe this 'touch target' is of great importance. By getting YS to 'touch target' (henceforth reported as TT, or tt) , this can act as a redirection of the actions I liked of YS.

Just as if your parrot does not fly to you, you use tt to get your parrot to tt, and in doing of that, fly to you.

Since YS is so shy, I do need TT in order to cue YS to land on my fingers at call.

I knew I had the ideal object as the target. In the last few weeks, from time to time, I found my ciggarette butts in his cage. YS dug that from my ashtray
as his 'plaything'. I had thoughts of stabbing a butt with a skewer stick and introducing that as target for YS. My wife shrieked when I voice my thoughts to her. Then I thought if YS is formally introduced to butt as a target, and if he gotten more used to me, I would be divebombed by him trying to get my ciggie from my mouth. Then there were also all the open ashtrays in the apartment for him to dig into.

And all you non smokers reading would be screaming your objections as well.

Luckily, my wife Joy is into beading.

( look into her folders for necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc etc )

So I did have lots of beads at home.

Since YS is so timid, I needed something small and less frightening as possible. If I present the target stick such as the cocktal stirrer for Tinkerbell, that would look like a big stick and would surely spook YS away in fright.

I stole a couple of blue beads and an orange bead. Taking 3 skewer stick to skewer the bead (and that wonderful silicone cement), I got three little wands with a small bead on top to use as target for YS. I needed only one. But I did not know YS color preference so I got more for him to chose.

The next sitting exercise was done with click and treat for him. Then I took out a target and slowly brought it up. His eyes were focused on the target. I could feel the fear in him as I brought it so slowly up. He spooked and flew high up to perch.

If he was afraid of it, he would not touch target for his click. He is so unlike parrot who will peck and bite anything brought near the beak.

When he came down again, I click and gave him a whitey. The target stick was hold between little and ring finger to get him used to seeing it with the whitey/suri. He flew off refusing the treat.

It took some efforts before he accepted the treat.

His cage is his secure place and he flew back inside. I placed the target onto his dining rock. He hopped above and eventually came down to investigate.

He pecked at the target bead, and I clicked and shouted 'good boy'. Perhaps I should just whisper 'good boy'. He spooked but I still insisted on him getting a nice suri.

I felt he did not quite connect yet that he got C&T for touching that target.

Eventually, he did that again. Though I whisper 'good boy' and clicked, he spooked again. This was not as easy as I had hoped for.

Well, that is always the tomorrow which hopefully be brighter than today.

At 6 pm, the MM was 39.5 gm and YS was 36.7 gm

Then I just did a few simple C&T without the target to end the day on a good note. Went through the ritual of him calling me to give him his goodnight chat before he settled finally on his night time perch looking in on me.


If what I wrote help you and you like to help, give a thought
for the wildlife sharing our planet.

Do write that cheque to Gerald Durrell wildlife trust

or to WWF or other conservation bodies of your choice

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