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Swifts feather the nest of a woman in southern Vietnam

It was much more. She had stumbled on a gold mine.

In 2010, the 58 year old resident of Minh Tan Commune in southern Binh Duong Province discovered six bird nests on the third floor of her house.

She thought it was a good omen and let the birds be.

A few months later, during an agriculture training session, the trainer spoke about the highly lucrative business of raising swifts for their nests.

Tuat immediately thought of the nests in her house and talked with her husband about investing in this new business, closing down their rubber and construction materials division.

“I thought to myself that I was old, my kids have settled down and I should find something else to do so I can rest more, but still earn some money,” said Tuat.

Luckily, her husband backed her and she started researching the new venture. She learnt that this bird preferred to live 500 meters above sea level amid vegetation or on the coast. Her village fitted the former description.

Once Tuat learnt more about bird farming techniques, she was ready to give it a go.

She has never looked back.

Vu Thi Tuat earns more than $21,000 a month from selling swift nests, once the preserve of royalty and still very expensive. Photo courtesy of Vu Anh Tuat.

Vu Thi Tuat earns more than $21,000 a month from selling swift nests, once the preserve of royalty and still very expensive. Photo by VnExpress/Vu Anh Tuat.

In the second and third floors of her house, she made wooden shelves, installed a surveillance camera and a sound system to replicate swift chirps, a ventilation hole, and a hole in the wall for the birds to enter and leave.

“In the first few days, we did not see any birds coming in on the camera,” she told VN Express.

“The six swifts that had once nested also flew away and we were very disheartened thinking we were not going to make it.

“To console me, my husband told me to think of it as an experiment.

“But our patience paid off on the 10th day when a flock of birds flew into our bird houses and made nests.

“We were delirious and kept jumping up and down like kids.”

A year went by.

Their house had become so popular with the birds that there was no more space left for newcomers. The couple then decided to renovate their outdoor storage to accommodate more birds.

Within no time they’d recouped their investment of VND120 million ($5,170).

Thousands of swifts have made Tuat’s house their home. She has built seven more birdhouses. She collects 50 nests a month. and sells them at VND20-30 million ($860-1,290) per kilogram.

Orders flood her desk every month and she never needs to advertise her products.

Freshly harvested birds nests. Photo by VnExpress

Freshly harvested birds’ nests. Photo by VnExpress

Tuat says swifts prefer temperatures of 27-30 Celsius, humidity of 70-85 percent and light of 0.2 LUX. They are cautious and often fly in flocks and build nests in safe, hidden places that protect them from predators, she explains.

In 2016 she was awarded a certificate of merit by the Prime Minister. Now people visit her in droves to learn her techniques.

Her children too are following in her footsteps.

Pham Quang Khai, chairman of Minh Tan Commune, said Tuat’s family boldly risked their old career to create the commune’s first bird nest houses.

Now more than 200 households are in this business, though the pioneer continues to be the most successful.

Rural transformation

The road to Minh Tan Commune passes through kilometers of rubber plantations on both sides.

It is a typical rural scene, except for thousands of birds, swifts, flying, swooping and chirping.

Led by Tuat, villagers here have discovered a new route to prosperity: growing the edible bird’s nests.

These highly nutritious nests were once a luxury item reserved only for kings and emperors. Now, in the modern era, more people have access to them, though not everyone can afford them at VND20-100 million ($860-4,300) a kilo.

Today, Tuat epitomizes the success of Minh Tan Commune, where more than 200 families have latched on to the lucrative vocation of breeding swifts’ nests.

With earnings of more than VND500 million ($21,500) a month, Tuat has blazed a trail for others to follow.

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