One of the most difficult situations for conservation is where state capacity to regulate is weak, major corporate organizations are absent, and the population does not have a strong culture of wildlife conservation. All these apply to the hugely popular urban Indonesian pastime of keeping wild songbirds, thought to be responsible for rolling local extinctions of several native species. In such situations the introduction of a voluntary, market-based approach could interact with regulation to create new and more effective approaches to reducing the negative conservation impacts of the associated trade. Here we assess the potential of such an approach through an in-depth analysis of the socio-economic and cultural aspects of bird keeping. We project that overall the pastime contributes USD 78.8 million to the economies of the six cities surveyed, supporting a range of associated small-scale rural and urban livelihoods relating to the production of cages and collection of live bird food. Finally, we describe five general bird-breeding models with the capacity to scale up the production of captive-bred birds that may substitute for wild-caught conspecifics. Based on this information we argue that a market-based policy instrument that is capable of shifting bird-keeping trends from wild-caught birds to captive-bred alternatives would align easily with macro-policy agendas in Indonesia relating to pro-poor growth and the creation of more and better jobs. Such a policy instrument could provide exciting opportunities for conservationists to engage the interest and support of non-conservation sectors in Indonesia in efforts to conserve diminishing populations of wild birds.