Human consumption of bird’s 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.
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.