Case Study: The Story Of A Failed Birdhouse

This is my first swiftlet farm, located at Rompin Swiftlet Ecopark, about 8KM from Kuala Rompin.

To be honest, I have very limited knowledge about swiftlet farming.

Today, I am still learning, so I do not proclaim to be an expert. That said, anything I share on this site will be based on my experience, or knowledge gained from reputable sources. Please consume the information with your own discretion. 😀

Pak Harry Was Hired To Renovate The Birdhouse

In 2014, I engaged Pak Harry to commence renovation on my empty birdhouse. He recorded his experiences on his blog. Here are the entries if you like to learn about how Pak Harry did up a brand new birdhouse.















The birdhouse started operations on 15-Mar-2015.

Sadly, after 2 plus years, there were no nests. Yes, zero nests.

There were signs of a few swiftlets living in the birdhouse, as indicated by their faeces on the floor, but they simply refused to nest.

The birdhouse was also ‘struck’ by owl, since I found at least 10 swiftlet carcasses within the birdhouse during a visit on 16-Nov-2017.

For 2 plus years, I haven’t been taking care of the birdhouse much, so it is no wonder that the birdhouse failed miserably.

Rather than putting the blame to anyone, I decided to step up and take control of the situation.

It will be a meaningful process, as I will have to force myself to gain knowledge as quickly as possible, come up with a plan on what changes will have to be made, and then learn how to carry out the works.

My go to guide is Dr EKA Nugroho’s books, the ones published in English. From his books, I learnt a few reasons as to why the birdhouse is failing.

Why The Birdhouse Failed

According  to my research and deductions, here are 5 main reasons:

  1.  The nesting rooms are too bright. It failed Pak Harry’s 2 feet test. Swiftlet won’t nest when the nesting rooms they are in are not dark enough. It will be necessary to reduce the light intensity in the nesting rooms, to approximately 2 lux.
  2. It is difficult to fly around in the birdhouse.  According to Dr. EKA’s recommendations, it is one of the reason why swiftlets do not nest. Hence, some partitions will have to be demolished or moved to allow easier flight movements within the birdhouse. While removing some of the partitions, it is necessary to consider the brightness of the rooms and keep the rooms dark.
    remove cement boards
  3. The ceilings are not flat, so a lot of the planks have gaps between them and the ceiling. Swiftlets will not nest when there are gaps between the planks and ceiling. These gaps need to be closed.
    swiftlet planks and ceiling
  4. The birdhouse walls, floors and planks have only been treated once with aroma, and that was back in 2015. The birdhouse does not have the aroma that will attract new swiftlets to stay in the house.
  5. Owls have invaded the birdhouse. I have to trap the owls and relocate them (no killing is my policy), as well as to prevent owls from entering. The birdhouse does not have any owl prevention system in place. The owl odor has to be removed from the birdhouse as well.
    owl in swiftlet house
  6. The sound used did not attract the birds to come and then visit the inside of the birdhouse. I think the internal sound also did very little to make the birds stay. (I changed the sounds once in 2016 and probably messed this one up.)
  7. The birdhouse is less attractive the the other units in the complexes, after 2 years plus of neglect. That said, to start with, there’s hardly any attractive incentives to persuade the swiftlets to stay!

Getting Started On Fixing The Birdhouse

1. Temperature and Humidity

The first step I took was to measure the temperature and humidity of the birdhouse.

I have a thermohygrometer data logger. If you are looking for one, you can buy one on Lazada (click on the first few results to view).

Having a data logging function on my thermohygrometer allows me to record the air temperature and humidity continuously for a period of time. I set the data logger to record every minute, and took measurements over a 2 day period.

The results showed that the average temperature was around 27 degree Celsius and relative humidity was around 85 – 90%. That’s a good start, since the readings reflect that the air conditions in the birdhouse is within the recommended levels.

temperature and relative humidity measurements

The recommended air temperature is 27 – 29 degree Celsius and relative humidity is 75 – 90%.

These readings are taken before changes are made.

After the changes, I will have to retake a few rounds of reading, spread over a year to get a comprehensive data about the air temperature and humidity. November and December are cooler months. The temperature in the birdhouse may rise during the hotter months.

Changes may be required to control the temperature and humidity should they fall out of range.

2. Reducing the Brightness in the Nesting Rooms

This one took a couple of days to fix.

First, I made the in-out hole smaller to reduce the amount of light entering the birdhouse. According Dr. EKA’s recommendations, an in-out hole with dimensions 80cm by 50cm is sufficient.

swiftlet in-out hole

The in-out hole used to be approximately 90cm in width and 2m in height, like a door.

After blocking part of it with a custom made door, the in-out hole is now about 90cm by 70cm, still larger than the recommended dimensions.

That said, this change blocked out tremendous amount of light entering the birdhouse.

The next step was to block out the light from the inter-room doorways.

black cloth

Black cloth was used to cover the lower two-thirds of the doorways between the rooms.

Cloth was used instead of cement boards because it will allow us to pass through the doorways, simply by lifting the cloth.

Moreover, it costs about RM9 per meter for the thicker cloth, and is readily available in any fabric shop.

The swiftlets could fly from room to room using the top one-third of the doorway, which remains unblocked.

The black cloths block out much of the light effectively, rendering the nesting rooms almost dark.

I did a 2 feet test at 10am in the morning, from the innermost nesting room and could barely see my hand. (The in-out hole faces north-east, so there’s still the morning sun shining into the in-out hole.) I was happy with the results.

Third, I hired a worker to paint the walls black.

black wall swiftlet farming

Black paint will help to absorb some amount of light incident on the wall’s surface.

In my case, only the walls that are reflecting light are painted black. Walls that are already dark are left alone. No point spending money unnecessarily. 😀

Lastly, I bought some cellulose filler to cover the fine gaps between the cement boards. These cement boards were previously erected to partition the birdhouse.

cellulose filler

However, there are still sunlight leaking through those fine gaps. The gaps are covered easily using wood plaster, which I bought for RM5 a can from a local hardware store.

3. Making it Easy for Young Swiftlets to Fly Inside the Birdhouse

From what I gathered from Dr. EKA’s books, here are a few guidelines when it comes to managing room space and flight paths within a birdhouse.

It needs to be made easy for young swiftlets to fly around the birdhouse. Remember, young swiftlets are still not too pro at making maneuvering like TOP GUN.

And they are the only ones which you have a chance to make them become your tenants. Older swiftlets which have nested elsewhere are unlikely to move to a new location, unless the conditions become unfavorable.

Here are the main considerations:

a) First, it is necessary to have a minimum of 4m by 4m space in every room. Rooms smaller than this size will restrict the swiftlet’s flight movements.

This is because the turn radius of a swiftlet is about 2m, hence, a room that is at least 4m by 4m will allow the swiftlet to fly inside the room easily.

b) The second thing to consider is the the circling flight path of a swiftlet within a room.

Preferably, inter-room holes should to be opened at both sides of each room, so that clockwise circling and anti-clockwise circling swiftlets will find it easier to enter the room from one side and leave the room from the other side.

If only one inter-room hole is available, a swiftlet that enters from the hole will find it difficult to exit the room. It will need to make a sharp turn within the room to change its circling direction in order to exit the room.

If a young swiftlet finds it difficult to fly within the birdhouse, it is less likely to stay in that birdhouse.

c) Third, the inter-room holes and in-out holes are to be positioned such that swiftlets can fly straight and level through these holes.

Hence, these inter-room holes should all have the same height, including the in-out hole.

The edges of the inter-room holes need to be at least 40cm from top of the ceiling and from the side of the walls. The size of these inter-room holes need to be at least 80cm in width and 50cm in height.