Baby Owls and Bat Skin Tea: The Bird Market in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Welcome to the bird market

A flash of green here, a yellow feather there…where am I? The bird market in Yogyakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia. I had no idea this place existed, until Steve and I examined a cartoon-drawing map of the city we picked up at the airport.

Since I was a little girl, I have always loved birds. My favorite pet was Perry the Parakeet, until my dad accidentally killed him while I was away at camp…he can’t eat those empty seed husks dad! But I digress. As an adult, I am ambivalent about caged birds, but I can’t help wanting to see their beauty up close, which is precisely what led us to this avian carnival today.

Parakeets at the bird market, Yogyakarta

As our single-toothed bicycle rickshaw driver skids to a stop, we hear the sweet songs of a thousand birds wafting on the humid afternoon breeze; their whimsical melodies instantly alluring. We amble amidst row after row of of brightly painted cages filled to bursting with parrots, parakeets, doves, hawks and finches–indeed, more varieties than I could ever possibly name.

Finch festival

Despite the beauty, I sense an air of desperate sadness permeating the hundreds of cages packed with fluttering wings and squawking beaks, as they wait for their fate to be determined. Will they become a birthday gift for a bright eyed child? An ingredient for the family dinner? I discover that the poor bats have the worst fate–they are taken home to be killed, their skins boiled with lemon grass to make a tea that allegedly cures diabetes. I wonder how that unusual concoction would sell on a TV infomercial?

Hanging out at the Yogyakarta bird market

Cages full of wide eyed, watchful owls–considered a symbol of good luck by the Javanese–wait in suspense for a peek at their new owner. Across the aisle, skittle colored baby chicks can be had for about $3 a piece, then bundled into a brown paper bag like a takeout lunch. The saleswoman assures me they are purchased only as pets. After hearing the fate of the bats, I can’t be sure.

Hello Mr. Owl

Blue chick anyone?

Baby komodo dragons, squirrels and tropical fish round out the creatures on parade at this famous Yogya menagerie. Here’s to hoping I don’t come back as an Indonesian bat in my next life!

Portrait of a parrot

9 responses to “Baby Owls and Bat Skin Tea: The Bird Market in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

  1. I had forgotten about the bird market. Nice reminder post! The chick photo is priceless Leslie (all natural dye I’m sure). We bought a wonderful batik in Yogyakarta that has survived multiple downsizing cuts, and we still have it today. Is Mt. Merapi smoldering? ~James

    • I know, the dye made me worried for the babies’ poor little eyes. Steve suggested maybe they wear tiny goggles. Heehee! As far as Yogyakarta, the mountains are still puffing smoke and Borobudur is still as beautiful as ever, I’m sure. 🙂

  2. Pingback: I Have Lived Today: A Poem, a Mantra and now, a Novel | The Chic Adventurer·

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