The Walet

S.E. Asia is filled with bird houses specifically built for the harvesting of nests that are made by the swiftlet. The “bird houses” are really buildings designed to house many hundreds of these birds. The buildings, which carry the same name as the bird (walet in Indonesia), can cost between $20,000-50,000 dollars (USD). Investors build these huge bird houses because the nests the birds make, uniquely from their own saliva, is harvested and sold for as much as $800.00-$1,600 dollars (USD) per kilogram (2.2 Lb). The price goes up tremendously as it passes through the middle-man.

Bird Nest Soup

The nests ultimately make their way to restaurants or individuals to be used in making bird nest soup. Asians believe the soup has medicinal value, specifically aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, improving focus, and an overall benefit to the immune system. This soup is also believed to possess qualities that will balance out the “life energy” known as qi.

In Jambi these walets (bird houses) are everywhere. A common home for people in Jambi, as well as in other areas of Indonesia, is known by the abbreviation ruko. This type of home consists of a small shop (toko) on the floor level and the home (rumah) on the second floor (rumah-toko, or, house & store). Evidence of this house / store system can still be seen in small towns throughout the United States; stores on the floor level, and an apartment on the second floor. In Indonesia, it is above many of these ruko that an additional 3 or 4th floor is built to become a walet.

Walet Under Construction


1. How long does it take for a swiftlet to build a nest.

  • It takes approximately one month for the birds to build their nest.

2. Does the swiftlet build their nests only at certain seasons of the year, or all year long?

  • The birds build their nests all through the year.

3. Are the birds ever given time to lay eggs, or are the nests harvested right away?

  • Yes the birds do lay eggs. Read the below methods of harvesting.

4. Do people eat the eggs?

  • No, the eggs are not eaten. If they are not left to hatch they will be thrown out.

5. Are the nests ever left undisturbed, so eggs will hatch and produce more birds?

  • If additional birds are desired the nests will be undisturbed. After the bird finishes building a nest it will lay eggs after 2-3 days. The eggs will then hatch after 20 days. The chicks will require another 40 days before they can fly, at which time the nest can be harvested.

6. If someone builds a new walet (bird house), will those with other walets in the area become angry because birds might leave theirs and build nests in the new one?

  • There is no problem with competitors. The birds will only return from the building they have always frequented.

7. Where do the birds come from? Do you have to buy them?

  • The birds cannot be purchased. You have to have them enter your building on their own accord. If there are many other walets around it may be hard to fill your new one with birds. A method to remedy this is to take the eggs out of nests from one walet and move them to a new nest in another walet. This is occasionally done because birds will always return to the same building to build their nests. If the chicks are hatched in one walet, then learn how to fly there, they will always return.

8. What if you can’t get eggs to start a colony of birds for your new walet?

  • One method of filling a walet with birds is to choose a good location for it before it’s built. A good location is chosen by observing the sky in the late afternoon. If there’s a lot of birds flying around, it may be an ideal location, as long as there are fewer than 30 other walets in the surrounding vacinity.

9. What is the life expectancy of one bird?

  • Usually 5 years.

Various Methods for Harvesting Nests

  • Panen Rampas (snatch the harvest)
    • This method involves harvesting the nest before the eggs are laid. This will enable harvesters to obtain the very cleanest nest possible, as well as obtain the highest price. If the nest is harvested prior to the birds laying eggs in it, the nest won’t be contaminated with feathers and other “things.”
    • The down side of this method is that the nest may not be 100% complete, losing out on a little of the weight that could otherwise be obtained.
  • Panen Buang Telur (harvest after removing the eggs)
    • This method requires the harvesting of the nest after the eggs are laid. This method will ensure a full weight and bring a better price, since the nest is still quite clean.
    • A down side of this method is that the birds can very likely become startled at the intrusion and fly to a different walet.
  • Panen Penetasan(harvest after chicks have begun flying)
    • This final method of harvesting is accomplished by harvesting the nests after the chicks can fly.
    • The benefit of this is that the regeneration of birds is guaranteed and the building will become filled with nests.
    • The down side of this method is that the nests will be contaminated with feathers, shell remnants, as well as other “things.” The nests have to be cleaned before they can be eaten. The nests harvested with this method are not as valuable as the two methods described above.