Pitch, Tone & Posturing in Yogya

Yes the music scene is hopping around Yogyakarta – the Kraton, the University area and on Malioboro street – but what I am intrigued with is the bird-singing contest I have just been told about down at the bird market.

All over Indonesia you see caged birds, homing pigeons and bird markets, but this centuries old custom has taken a new twist in the past 15 years as  owners pit their birds against others of the same species in local, regional and national bird-singing contests.  There are entry fees, prize money (no gambling for once), judges and a raucous crowd of spectators, owners and trainer vying for prestige, honour and of course the prizes.   More than a hobby, these competitions are beleived to be a $66.5m USD industry on the islands of Java and Bali alone, with top birds exchanging hands for tens of thousands of dollars.

This short video will give you just a little glimpse into one late afternoon contest at the new bird market in Yogya.  This was fun to film!  Oh, I forgot to mention that the judges also allocate points for fancy posturing while the birds are singing their hearts out.

For those who want just a tad more information – here is a list of the most common birds found in the competitions

Orange-headed thrush  (Zoothera citrina),  Long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach), White-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus), Oriental magpie (Robin C. saularis), Chestnut-cappped thrush (Zoothera interpres), Straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Canary (Serinus canarius), Lovebird (Agapomis spp), Greater green leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), Blue-winged leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis), Hill-blue flyctcher (Cyornis banyumas).

There are now captive breeding programs for some of these birds, and for a great article on conservation issues and policy as it relates to bird-singing competitions see http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/news/publications/pjepson-etal-oryx-2011.pdf.

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