Budget Single Story Bird House [Logie Seman]

Budget Single Story Bird House
Logie Seman (Ex-Assistant Forest Officer, Forest Department Sarawak)

 A study was conducted of bird houses that are used to lure the swiftlet ‘burung walet’. The purpose of the study was to design a practical and innovative bird house that would provide better opportunities for rural or middle class people to participate in swiftlet farming and the sale of white edible bird’s nests, which is considered a lucrative industry.
 In Sarawak, wealthy people or companies initiated the construction of large bird houses, three to four stories high, which might cost between RM 300,000 to RM 400,000. An alternative is to build a single story bird house inclusive of infrastructure and electrical appliances for approximately RM 35,000, which is more affordable to enthusiasts. Moreover, less risk is anticipated against capital investment. Numerous small bird houses have proven to be strategically viable in terms of turnover and maintenance relative to the capital invested, and because of good expertise. Competition with other bird houses is a minor issue as long as the bird house is located in a primary flying path with a large supply of insects for the swiftlets to feed on. Thus, it is different from the concept of competition among star portfolio companies.
 Indonesia and Thailand started swiftlet farming approximately 100 and 80 years ago, respectively. In West Malaysia, although it started slightly more than 30 years ago, large-scale businesses gathered momentum after the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997–1998; a period when many businesses experienced hard times and many of them closed down throughout the country. Another factor for the momentum was the great migration of swiftlets to Malaysia following the vast forest fires in Indonesia in 1997. The bird house industry in Sarawak also started during that period.
 The main buyers of edible bird’s nests are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore (Merikan 2007). Prior to a decrease in price in the middle of 2011 to RM 1,500 per kilogram of unprocessed edible bird’s nest, the price per kilogram was between RM 4,500 to RM 6,000 depending on the quality. A kilogram of processed white edible bird’s nest could obtain a retail price of RM 15,000 to RM 25,000 in Hong Kong and China. Consumption of edible bird’s nests is considered a status symbol, they are attributed with health giving properties, and are used as a base mineral in the production of herbal and vitamin supplements (Merikan 2007). In Sarawak, few people consume the product, with the exception of the rich Chinese. Personally, I have consumed the product twice in my life; once sponsored by a Chinese friend, and another time sponsored by Dr. Fujita. One small bowl of the soup cost approximately RM 60 in Kuching.

Conditions of bird house construction
The swiftlets start to forage outside after dawn or as early as 5:30 am to 6:30 am, subject to good weather. They return at approximately 15:30 in the afternoon after foraging within a radius of approximately 25 kilometers, and enter the bird house before dusk. They have excellent flying agility. For this reason, they are able to mate in the sky and keep a ball of insects (bolus) in their mouths for the chicks inside the bird house.
 According to Budiman (2010), there are three flying paths, the primary, secondary, and deviation paths. In the primary path, a big flock of swifts glide together from the same location. The most important sites for building bird houses are along swift foraging locations such as in coastal areas with mangrove forest, vast tracts of paddy fields, above secondary forests, and reforestation areas (except oil palm plantations), where there are plenty of insects. While foraging, they fly between 20 to 50 meters above the ground.  The secondary path is used by a smaller flock of swiftlets in pursuit of foraging locations, but it is not very far from the primary path. The deviation path is not a fixed gliding location. A very small number of swifts use the deviation path for two reasons. Firstly, when they are in pursuit of aerial insects in another spatial zone, and secondly, to deviate and keep safe from predators such as eagles and large bats. The deviation path is not suitable for locating a bird house.
 The site for a bird house is very important. In Sarawak, most successful bird houses are located in coastal areas such as between Asa Jaya to Sebuyau/Lingga/Meludom, and between Pusa/Kabong to Sarikei/Sibu and Matu Daro. Other good coastal areas are between Mukah and Bintulu, and between Similajau and Bekenu/Miri. Before erecting a bird house, the location suitability must be determined by playing the swift mating sound approximately between 6:30 to 9:00 in the morning and 16:00 to 19:00 in the afternoon at least five times a week. The location is suitable if at least fifty swiftlets react to the echolocation by gliding and hovering to the mating sound, flying at approximately 10 meters above the ground (Salekat 2010).
 Zero degree latitude falls exactly at Pontianak, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Sarawak is slightly above the equator. Hence, to reduce the heat from the sun, the length of the bird house must be oriented along the east to west direction with its “monkey house ” and entrance facing the north. More heat is directed onto the southern side than the northern side. The following are a list of guidelines for reducing the heat from the external environment:

 a. The roof must not be fixed to the upper beams of the building, but fixed approximately 0.5 meters above the beams, and approximately 2.0 meters above the beams at the apex of the roof. This open space is to accommodate radial ventilation, which also functions as an insulator to the building structure.

 b. Thin aluminum roofing is effective, because it reflects heat from the outer surface, but it must be reinforced with an air duct insulator from the inside.

 c. The roof of the “monkey house” should have approximately a 30 degree angle in order to reduce the afternoon heat from the west.

 d. The drain should be approximately 0.3 meters wide × 0.45 meters deep and must touch the ground wall and the foundation by filling it with rain water. At the lower end of the drain, a faucet is installed to accommodate monthly cleaning. The main reasons to construct a drain in this manner are to create a cooling system and to avoid predators such as geckos, ants, and rats from entering the bird house.

 e. According to Mulia (2009), the entrance should be 0.4 meters × 1.0 meter, but after bird’s nest production starts it should be narrowed to 0.15 meters × 1.0 meter. The reason is to reduce excess light and heat besides avoiding predators such as owls and bats. It must be located approximately 40 cm below the roof.

 The temperature inside the bird house must be between 26 to 29 °C with the humidity between 75%–95%. The ideal light intensity is around 3.0 lux (Mulia 2009, 2010). The roving area must not be smaller than 3.0 meters × 3.0 meters so that the young chicks can safely learn to fly inside. Other ventilation to maintain conductive humidity should be set using PVC pipes of 0.6 to 1.2 meters length installed 1.0 to 1.5 meters apart along each wall1 meter above the ground. Another row of louvres should be put approximately 3 meters above the lower row. The floor and walls must be concrete. To enhance humidity, several buckets or jars filled with water are placed on the floor.  The floor must be showered with water twice a week. The ledges are best made of Meranti (Shorea spp.) timber approximately 2 cm × 15 cm with two shallow grooves horizontally, and should be placed on all sides of the bird house. The distance between the ledges is normally between 0.6 to 0.7 meters. A bird house should have double doors, with the main door facing south to reduce disturbance to the bird entrance facing north. For mating chirps, the main tweeter capable of echolocation should be placed at an angle of 60°above the entrance. Speakers with various tweeters for chick chirps are placed inside the “monkey house,” whereas those for breeding chirps should be placed inside the nesting area.
 A compact disc (CD) player producing swiftlet chirp sounds are used to attract swiftlets as well as to increase the population. A USB memory or memory card is recommended for storing the sounds. Stacks of amplifiers are needed to strengthen the birds chirping sound. The chirping sound must ideally be played between 6:00 to 10:00 in the morning and between 15:30 to 19:30 in the afternoon. Electrical appliances are available for sale in major towns of Sarawak, namely, Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, and Miri.

Figure 1: An example of bird house layout plan Figure 2: An example of bird house (South elevation) Figure 3: An example of bird house (East elevation)
License of bird house construction
 Local markets for selling unprocessed white nests are never problematic. For example, in Pusa and Kabong areas, the buyers (towkey) from Sibu or Sarikei are willing to buy the product off-site. In major towns, the buyers are willing to purchase even bulk quantity, {without confirming if the suppliers have licenses issued by the Forest Department. In some places, such as Bintulu and Sibu, some people tend to manipulate the prices by forcing the suppliers to sell to them.  No license shall be given to bird houses located in shop lots or residential areas. The conditions for licenses to be approved are as follows:

 a. Agricultural land not for specific purposes such as rice and rubber.

 b. It must be a valid and un-collateral entity.

 c. The land in question must be at least 15 kilometers away from major towns or cities; five kilometers away from small towns/bazars (e.g., Lingga, Meludam, Pandan, etc.), and at least one kilometer away from a longhouse or village.

 Five sets of applications, including working papers, must be submitted to the Forest Department for processing. Copies are issued to the Sarawak Planning Authority (SPA), the Lands and Survey Department, the Health Department, and the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB). The SPA will initially arrange for an inspection by the four Departments, and the Forest Department will compile a respective report to the SPA, who will decide whether the application is to be approved or not. If approved, the applicant will be notified to collect the license upon payment of RM 300. Annual license renewal is also for RM 300.
 It is unclear how the SPA selects successful applications. The members consist of the State Secretary, with two other VIPs, headed by the Chief Minister as the chairman. To date, the Forest Department has issued about 5,000 bird house licenses in Sarawak. According to a Forest Department officer, almost 3,000 applications have currently been submitted but approximately only 400 licenses have been issued.
 I recommend a budget single story house, with a height of 4.0 meters for the breeding area and with a “monkey house”1 of up to 6.0 to 7.0 meters. The width and length are 6 meters and 15 meters, respectively. The estimated cost is RM 35,000 including electrical appliances. Unfortunately, the price for the unprocessed white nests still remains approximately RM 1,500/kg, since the price decreased in mid-2011. With a price of approximately RM 3,000/kg, the recommended bird house would be economically viable.

1:“Monkey house” is coined by Indonesians as “rumah munyit,” where the swiftlets are roving inside where a small entrance is placed. This is also called roving area.

Budiman, A. et al.
 2010. Panduan bengkap wallet. Jakarta: Perpustakaan Nasional.
Merikan, H. S.
 2007. Abstract of the 2007 Malaysian swiftlet farming industry report.
 Penang: SMI Association of Penang.
Mulia, H.
 2009. Buku pinter budi daya bisnis walet. Jakarta: PT Agro Media Pustaka.
 2010. Cara jitu memikat walet. Jakarta: PT Agro Media Pustaka.
Salekat, H. N.
 2010. Membangun rumah walet hemat biaya. Jakarta: PT Agro Media Pustaka.

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