To an untrained ear, a Zebra Dove (Barred Ground Dove / Ketitir / Nokkhao / Pekutut) singing is no different from another. However, the value of the bird, commonly known as merbok in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, is virtually priceless for someone who appreciates the beauty of its singing because every bird has an individual, unique voice, that cannot be duplicated or replicated.
I have been told that the Thailand King’s Cup champion merbok was recently transacted at RM165,000 and another bird changed hands at RM95,000 in Singapore. These prices underline the fact that the merbok is a valuable bird indeed. Good thing they could live up to 20 years if they were well taken care of!
All these merbok birds are commercially bred. They are tagged and registered at birth with their hatchery in Thailand.
In the event any of these birds emerge as champions, their lineage can be easily traced back to their hatchery.
Thus, the breeder becomes famous for producing top class birds and become known to merbok hobbyists and potential customers.
These photos I am sharing today were taken at a mini merbok singing competition held at a field in Menglembu on Sunday. There is a similar competition every month, and on other Sundays, this is a regular meeting place for merbok owners and hobbyists.
They also gather here during public holidays, bringing their birds out to socialise is a way to condition and acclimatise them so that they will learn to sing from other birds, or to sing even under a stressful competition environment.
In this mini competition that ran for two hours, the birds in their elaborate bamboo/wood cages were hung on poles 20ft above the ground and 8 to 10ft apart. The 105 birds came from Ipoh, other parts of Perak, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kedah and even Thailand.
Three judges separately walked on the field to listen to the birds one at a time as they sang and competed against one another. The judges awarded scores based on the bird’s starting sound, middle sound, ending sound and melody. A maximum mark of 17 was given for the starting and middle sounds as well as the melody while a maximum of 34 marks was given for the ending sound. This added to a maximum of 85 marks given per judge.
The birds competed in different categories: Category A for rough voice, B for normal, C for high pitch and D for young birds. Normally, a bird will be about one to two years old before its voice is good enough to be entered in a competition.
As in any competition, the bird must perform, otherwise it will lose out on points. Basically, the rule of the thumb is that the more expensive the bird was purchased at, the better its voice quality. The worst part is that there is no foolproof way to train a bird to sing, or the way to sing, or at a certain pitch. It’s all inbred and heavily depends on the health, mood and individual characteristics of the bird.
In a major merbok singing competition, the birds have to compete in four rounds for four straight hours, although only top marks for three rounds are taken into account. According to one of the judges, Uncle Pang, if 60 – 70% of the entrants sing, the competition can be considered successful.
At this mini competition, while the scores were being tabulated, bird owners participated in a lucky draw where bird feed were given away. It was then followed by the presentation of prizes. Apart from the top three winners per category, almost half the participants in the competition walked away with consolation prizes of food hampers.
Champion in Categories A/B is owned by Ho Kok Lim, or more fondly known as Uncle Ho. A long-standing merbok hobbyist, he was the organiser of this mini competition. Now aged 89, his love for the bird is still unfailing after 50 years.
Uncle Ho, who lives in Teluk Intan, entered a total of 7 birds in this competition. At his prime, Uncle Ho was known as the owner of the most expensive merbok in Malaysia. Today, his most expensive bird was purchased at a price of RM22,000, inclusive of the cage.
The next mini merbok singing competition will be held on 25th Jan, 2015 in Butterworth.
For more information on merbok singing competitions or on the hobby club, contact: Ho Kok Lim (Uncle Ho) at +6012-5381388 or Wong Kim Pang (Uncle Pang) at +6010-9829626.
Event: Merbok Singing Competition
Venue: Field in Menglembu
GPS Coordinates: N 04° 34,814′ E101° 02.136′
Date: 11th Jan, 2015
Time: 9am – 11am
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