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A strong understanding of the social, cultural and economic aspects of the songbird trade is essential for targeted actions to educate and change the behaviour of communities and actors involved in the trade, and to engage and motivate constituencies in favour of more sustainable practices. Appropriate approaches will vary greatly across countries and contexts, and developing appropriate approaches will require research on specific trade chains and contexts. Approaches include building links with bird-keeping societies and other influential entities in the trade to educate members and foster more sustainable practices, improving commercial captive breeding practices for appropriate species and diverting consumer demand toward these sources; engaging with communities identified as heavily implicated in unsustainable wild bird harvesting to support self-chosen and economically and socially feasible livelihood activities, the benefits of which are conditional on the reduction/cessation of unsustainable harvesting.

Understanding demand for songbirds in Java

South-East Asia is currently facing an avian extinction crisis driven by a huge volume of domestic and international trade in wild birds (Nijman, 2010; Eaton et al., 2015). Indonesia in particular, is considered a central hub for trade, typified by recent evidence demonstrating how domestic trade is driving major population declines in wild birds in Sumatra (Harris et al., 2016). This PhD project aims to understand the characteristics of demand for songbirds, and using this information to investigate and identify measures that will reduce the impact on wild bird populations and improve sustainability of the industry.


Over 3,000 face-to-face interviews have been conducted right across Java - gathering data on the bird-keeping habits of respondents, alongside their perceptions and beliefs relating to bird-keeping, such as how many, and what types of birds they own, why they keep birds, and whether they see a connection between their birds and wild populations. The surveys have been by a team of students from Indonesia and Harry Marshall. Study sites were chosen to capture an equal share of urban and rural settings within each administrative region in Java. Previous work on this topic has mainly focused on urban populations of bird-keepers, however by including rural localities we hope to uncover a more nuanced understanding of demand across Java.


Another dimension to the situation is that as the sale of birds in markets appears to have decreased in recent years (in part thanks to work by NGOs exposing illegal trade), and it is now becoming easier to buy wildlife on the internet. Trade now happens over social media, which isn’t surprising considering Indonesia has one of the fastest growing social media markets, and has the fourth highest number of Facebook users globally. An online version of the survey will therefore be made available and shared at singing contests, at universities, and via social media links to allow access to a much larger audience. Another important part of the project is using web-scraping to gather information on the habits, perceptions and beliefs of hobbyists, and subsequently using text-mining analytics to determine what key factors influence a bird’s popularity, and what species may become threatened in the future. The results from these online-based techniques will be compared with the results from the face-to-face survey to determine whether they represent a cost-effective means for collecting crucial data on bird-keeping in Indonesia.

Through combining these various methods (from face-to-face interviews to web-scraping), we aim to build a comprehensive picture of the drivers and factors that are influencing demand for cagebirds, to inform and create evidence-based intervention strategies that reduce the impact on wild bird populations in the long-term. Ideally, these methods will also be replicable to other instances where demand for wildlife is driving populations to the brink of extinction.


People: Harry Marshall, Stuart Marsden, Nigel Collar, Yuda Pramana, Alex Lees, Andrew Moss

Contact: HARRY.MARSHALL [at]

Funding: Chester Zoo and Manchester Metropolitan University, Oriental Bird Club


Further information on this project can be found at

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