When enjoying a sweet nutritious bowl of bird nest (燕窝) soup, images of dark caves, a person hoisted up midair, probably with a long bamboo, harvesting bird nest…well, that image might need some re-adjustment, the birdnest that you are enjoying might not come from a cave, but the insides of a building in a town somewhere.
Swiflet farming is getting to be a pretty lucrative business. This is where special buildings are built or existing buildings are converted into bird houses, and the ‘farmer’ harvest the birdnest periodically. These bird house are specially made, i.e. wooden planks will be put up at the ceilings, to maintain the humidity, water fountains might be set up inside the houses, these houses would also be equipped with ‘bird calls’ to attract the swiflets to ‘enter’ and make their nests. But before that, make sure that swiflets are available at that location la..they are normally present at areas near the seasides- e.g Setiawan is a popular place for swiflet farming.
Swiflets being migratory birds is not affected by bird-flu. And one of the ethic of the farmers is that they only harvest nests that are empty ( i.e. those that the eggs had hatched and the little birdies that no longer needs to be in a nest).
I had a chance to visit a friend who had about 1.5 years ago started on this bird nest business, and just recently able to harvest his first lot of ‘nest’. This birdhouse was a 2 storey shoplot, from the outside, it looks like a regular building. And inside, it’s a different ball game….it’s pitch dark inside, and your ears would be echoing with the sound of birdcalls (from CDs not the real call) , it can be quite dusty and smelly due to the birds guano.
Below is a typical nest ( note the timber planks)
A closer look
Not a very clear picture as I can’t get the camera to focus- but that dark blob at the nest is a baby bird. And if u look closely at the left , you can see the ‘leftover’ of a nest that was harvested. The nests are harvested using a scraper ( like the paint scrapers)
Bird guano, this is a fairly new birdhouse so there are not much of guano, older / more populated houses might have pretty thick collection of guano.
The enemies include : cats – including musang ( which come in and eat the birds), cockroaches that eats the nest ( these should be the strong contenders for the Miss Cockroach crown as they should have lovely complexion).
There are ‘middleman’ that goes around to buy the birdnest and the prices can be ~ RM4,000 / kg for nest are relatively clean ( less feathers and other stuff in them) and whole and as low as RM800/kg for ‘dirty nest’ with lots of feathers, broken pieces, etc.
An average sized nest can weight around 8 – 12g / nest , so the nest below might be able to fetch a price of ~ RM 32 ( when I look around the medicinal halls, the ‘cleaned’ nest – i.e what is sold in the nicely packed boxes are nests that had been cleaned of the feathers and other stuff and ‘re-built’ into the shape of a nest is sold around RM7000-8000/ kg) .
Extracted some info from http://www.answers.com
The most heavily harvested nests are from the edible-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the black nest swiftlet (Aerodramus maximus). The white nests and the “red blood” nests are supposedly rich in nutrients which are traditionally believed to provide health benefits, such as aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, increasing concentration, and an overall benefit to the immune system.
The nests are composed of interwoven strands of salivary laminae cement. Both nests have high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Some believe that taking all the nests provides some degree of benefit to the swiftlets because the female will not lay her eggs in an old nest. Old nests line the cave walls where new nests could be built.
Extract from http://www.koreabridge.com/writings/nonfiction/tpark_birdsnestsoup.shtml on the history of birdnest trade. Looks like Laksamana Cheng Ho had a hand in introducing birdnest into China
According to Yun-Cheung Kong, professor of biochemistry in the Chinese University in Hong-Kong, the trade of swiftlets’ nests began in China during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Some time during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), an admiral named Cheng He introduced foreign nests to the Imperial court of China. He traveled throughout Southeast Asia one year and brought back samples of many different kinds of nests and presented them to the Imperial Court. Dr. Kong believes that the supply in China had been exhausted before foreign nests were imported. In the late 17th century, four million nests (125,000 pounds) passed through the port of Batavia, now Jakarta.
Found this interesting blog on swiftlet farming http://swiftletfarming.blogspot.com/