Great Big Story documentary on Singaporean birdcage maker sparks criticism over confining birds

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Bird uncles have been a longtime staple of Singapore culture — typically elder male hobbyists who gather to show off and display their collection of prized songbirds. A tradition that dates as far back as the fifties, these days the art of rearing birds and partaking in bird-singing competitions are no longer the massive spectacles it once were, but there exists a group of uncles keeping the culture alive.

One of them is Teng Leng Foo, a man who’s been in the scene for decades as the proprietor of Cage Making 159 in Ang Mo Kio. In a short documentary by cinematic storytelling company Great Big Story, Teng’s 58-year-long craft is explored, showing his enormous love for songbirds as well as the showcasing galas at Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club.

As genuine as his love for the birds may be, viewers outside Singapore saw otherwise, criticizing the culture of confining birds in a cage.

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The ethics of pet birds

The question of keeping birds as pets has long been debated, and there’s no simple answer to it. Some species of birds such as parrots and parakeets have been bred in captivity, and may actually require human care as they may not survive in the wild. Even as pets, the ethical responsibility of bird owners is to ensure the cage is big enough to fly and climb, and at least let them out to roam free every once in a while.

The moral quandary looms even bigger when wild birds are taken out of their natural habitat and kept captive. The flock of songbirds here — typically merboks, thrushes, bulbuls and mata putehs — however are said to be domestically reared and are rarely seen in the wild.

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