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The Truth About Bird's Nest

dried bird's nest
November 10, 2015 Reviewed by Marta 8 Comments

Scouring around for leads on new eye serums, I found myself on the site of an Asian skincare brand called BioEssence. It touts a potion called Bird’s Nest + Peptides and, yes, it really does include bird’s nest. BioEssence claims this improbable ingredient contains “nutri-collagen”. Birds nest potions have been coming on to my radar recently (of which more later) and so I decided to see if they could be anything more than a flight of fancy.

The type of nest that is eaten in soup or made into cosmetics is the work of the swiftlet (aerodramus fuciphagus), a small member of the swift family and common in Southeast Asia. Clear your mind of a cluster of twigs. The swiftlet nest is made entirely of the bird’s saliva and is pretty impressive as far as nest construction goes — the bracket-shaped nest is white and is made of layers of hardened saliva attached to a rock face or building.

Although apparently cleaned before being incorporated into face cream, it is sobering to remember that a nest is the swiflet equivalent of a double-wide serving as nursery, bathroom and kitchen. But even if I am willing to get past this reservation, I would still like to know whether bird’s nest has real benefits.

Nutri-collagen, as BioEssence claims, may be pushing things a bit. One study concluded that the nutritional content is mostly protein, followed by carbohydrate. I was about to conclude that edible bird’s nests were a hoax, when I found some research that changed my mind. Bird’s nest has epidermal growth factor (source) and is being used in research on cancer (source).

Bird spit may be credible, but it won’t be making it into my beauty regimen. There is a tragic backstory to this trending anti-aging ingredient. Bird’s nests are becoming big business for the soup and cosmetic industries and the environmental impact is beginning to look grim.

Some swiftlet populations have been harvested so extensively that they are considered critically threatened. Increasingly nests are taken before the birds have a chance to lay their eggs. Meanwhile, in the last few years, swiftlet nest farming has become big business. I came across websites promising earnings of $1m a year and offering tips for building “houses” that attract swiftlets with tweeters so that they will construct their nests. According to The New York Times, bird houses have been popping up Borneo, creating an unregulated industry to replace logging lost to widespread deforestation.

I have witnessed Borneo’s deforestation first hand, making for a rather depressing vacation a decade or so ago. Thankfully, the plundering of swiftlet nests hadn’t started there then.

  • June 19, 2016

    by Jenson

    Hi there!

    We are a group of Singapore Polytechnic students, looking for Australians or Asians living in Australia to participate in our market research survey, for our final year project.

    We are looking to bring Kim Bird’s Nest into Australia and we seek your honest inputs on bird’s nest.

    This short survey will require 5-10 minutes of your time.

    The website for the survey is:
    http://goo.gl/forms/joCKXTyW4PjnUujP2

    Thank you so much for your participation and we wish you all the best

  • January 11, 2016

    by John

    Hi Darren,

    I agree with what you said... people are stupid to believe "widespread rumours from the internet" ... why would the farmer destroy the "egg" in order to harvest the nest.

    The egg will hatch into baby swiftlets when grown up will make more edible bird nest...

    Swiftlet eggs are worth more than the edible bird nest... Its a chicken and egg equation. Without swiftlet eggs, even if you build a house. Where will there be the swiftlets ?

    I beg to differ with the author on " I came across websites promising earnings of $1m a year and offering tips for building “houses” that attract swiftlets with tweeters so that they will construct their nests "
    If their tips or returns work as claim , they would have built it themselves silently...
    a kilogram of good quality edible bird nest can fetch as high as US$5000.

    Empty vessels makes the most noise...

    If its so easy and profitable , SUPPLY will exceed demand...
    Same applies to any agriculture industry...

    Dudes , use your brains...

  • December 24, 2015

    by Don

    Snails, Swiftlets, Spiderwebs...
    what next??

  • December 10, 2015

    by Darren

    Hi,

    I work in the bird's nest industry in mainland Malaysia and just want to fill in a few details if that's ok.

    In Malaysia over 90% of bird's nests comes form bird's nest houses now. Its simply against the bird's nest house owner's interest to mistreat the birds as the bird's will simply leave and not build any new nest. There are no cages or anything to restrain birds. They leave in the morning to feed and fly back at sunset. If the house is poorly designed they'll go elsewhere.

    The bird's cannot be forced into coming or staying in any nest. They are attracted there by the conditions of the house which are built specifically to make them attractive for birds. The swiftlet population in Malaysia has been steadily increasing over the past few years as a result of better houses been built and the rise of bird's nest house consultants.

    If one wants to have a sustainable bird's nest house, they will only harvest abandoned nests after the chick has flown away. The owner will hope that the chick will return home to build a nest where it was hatched, and increase the nest population.

    The whole cycle from the bird entering, building, laying the egg, egg hatches to the chick flying away takes approximately 120 days.

    There are famous bird's nest caves in east Malaysia (Borneo) and the government have since taken steps to stop the over harvesting of these caves. Before since nobody owned them, it was whoever came first took whatever they liked. Now there are only 3 sanctioned harvests per year with only licensed operators allowed into the cave to take a quota. However bird's nest houses now far outnumber nests from caves and generally have a higher nutritional content due to the more controlled environment.


    Since 2011 the Ministry of Agriculture and the Malaysian government export division, MATRADE, have ramped up the regulatory measures in the industry. Malaysia supplies approximately 20% of the world trade yet has over 90% of the newly created Chinese import licenses which is the biggest market.

    Contrary to what people think, its actually easier to import bird's nest to the USA than it is to China. China has the most stringent rules when it comes to importing bird's nest since they implemented them back in 2011 and require almost hospital cleanliness standards in the cleaning facilities. Every bird's nest now can be traced back to the individual house where it came from via RFID scanning and any nest sent for export first has to have a sample sent to the Veterinary services department to verify its chemical content.

    I can't speak for other exporting countries such as Indonesia (the biggest exporter), Thailand or Vietnam but just from our experience here in Malaysia, its pretty fair to say that the government recognised this industry as a key growth area and took steps to ensure its validity via the regulation of the harvesting and cleaning facilities. Its worked and now Malaysian bird's nest are the most expensive and in demand of any due to the perceived safety and quality.

    Sorry for the long post. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

  • November 10, 2015

    by Fiona

    I'm glad you put in the information about the threatened swiftlets I say learn to love your wrinkles let's face it they are your story

  • November 10, 2015

    by Jan

    That is tragic. So glad TIA will not be supporting that greedy industry. It is never worth looking good if it means hurting others

  • November 10, 2015

    by Beverly

    Sounds like More animals to be mistreated for human greed,

  • November 10, 2015

    by Francine

    I love learning about new things on TIA, but this one was a big surprise. I might be willing to use it in a cream but soup? I've heard of bird's nest soup but didn't realize it was literally the bird's nest! The prospect of a cream was intriguing until the conclusion informing about the extreme decimation of their nests leading to endangerment of the swiftlets. Thanks for letting us know about this trend and the damage it causes, and for your conscience and ethics. Gotta love TIA!

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