History & Background


“Edible bird’s nest” refers to the nest produced by several different swiftlet species. Human consumption of these nests has been a symbol of wealth, power, prestige and as well as being used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dating as far back as the Tang (618-907 AD) and Sung (960-1279 AD) dynasties.

More than 24 species of insectivorous, ecolocating swiftlet are distributed around the world, but only a few produce nests that are edible for human consumption. The majority of edible bird’s nests traded worldwide come from two species, the White-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the Black-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus maximus), whose habitats range from the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean to sea-caves in the coastal regions of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Borneo, and the Palawan Islands in the Philippines.

The nests are built almost exclusively by the 7-20 g male swiftlet over a period of approximately 35 days. The building material is composed almost entirely of a glutinous material found in saliva secreted from the swiftlet’s two sublingual salivary glands. The half-bowl, self-supporting shaped nests, weigh 1-2 times the swiftlet’s actual body weight and are usually attached to the vertical concave face walls of inland or seaside nest for human consumption is a painstaking and often times dangerous operation for local collectors. In the natural environment, most nests are built hundreds of feet up on cave walls for the swiftlets and their babies to avoid predators, and harvesting require the use of temporary scaffolding made of locally collected bamboo or ironwood.

Because cave nests are dangerous and hard to access, they are  collected infrequently, and re-used by the swiftlets over multiple clutches of babies. The same cave nests collect more feathers, shells and other bird matter, and are actually impossible to be completely cleaned. Thus, “bird houses” which simulates the cave environment of the swiftlets, are purpose built to attract swiftlets to nest in them. Our house bird’s nest are cleaner, as the house is well-maintained, regularly cleaned, and harvested after every single clutch of baby swiftlets mature, and do not need the nests any more. This also lowers the risk of our workers during harvesting.

After collection, the tedious process of manual cleaning begins, where the bulk of the cost of bird’s nest is. It approximately takes a person 8 hours, to clean 10 nests. The nests are cleaned by temporarily soaking them in water until the nest cement is softened and the tightly bound laminae partially loosen. Small feathers and fine plumage are then manually removed with tweezers with the cleaned strands subsequently rearranged and molded back into shape, air-dried, and packaged.

Hong Kong is considered the world’s largest importer and consumer of the processed nests with North-America being the second largest market. World trade figures conservatively estimates that 17-20 million nests are harvested each year with the total weight being estimated at approximately two (2) metric tonnes, not including the unreported balance of actual world-wide production.