Millions Of Songbirds Slaughtered For Food
January 7, 2014

Millions Of Songbirds Slaughtered For Food

Take a careful look at this moving image by photographer David Guttenfelder on the National Geographic website. A Redstart hangs in the air unable to detach itself from a “lime stick” – a trap made from cut branches covered with sticky glue usually made from boiled plums or other fruit which is placed there to catch such songbirds. At first you think the bird is quite dead and any movement is merely due its wings and feathers moving in the wind. Then you realize, as the bird suddenly makes a desperate attempt to free itself, that it is indeed still alive. In the background there is an identical bird suffering the same slow lingering death. Each and every year millions of tiny birds like these are trapped, netted, or shot right across Southern Europe and into North Africa. This slaughter is illegal and takes place purely and simply to satisfy a huge demand for songbirds to be used as food.

Make no mistake, this is in no way a form of subsistence hunting which can be justified in terms of supporting a native way of life in the way that, for example, an Innuit might get exemption from legal restrictions on killing bears or whales. This wholesale capture and killing is carried out to provide banned “delicacies” in homes and restaurants and is often conducted simply for profit or, at worst, simply for fun.

The birds are used in many dishes, such as ambelopoulia. This consists mainly of a type of warbler common in Europe, the Blackcap, although other species are used. The whole bird is eaten including the legs and beak. Over 150 species have been found in the various forms of traps and over 70 of those would be classified as endangered by the EU Birds Directive. The trapping methods are indiscriminate and non-selective. This activity is not just cruel it is environmentally disastrous. But the financial incentives continue to drive the trade. In Cyprus, where all forms of bird trapping have been illegal since 1974, ambelopoulia itself is banned but is still widely available illegally in restaurants around the island where it can fetch prices ranging from 40 to 80 Euros. Similar dishes are available as far afield as France, Italy, and Egypt. The Egyptians often roast songbirds stuffed with rice.

Despite legislation and concerted attempts by conservation organisations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International, little has been achieved in stopping the killing. Some groups like Germany’s Committee Against Bird Slaughter have taken more direct action. “CABS” members frequently visit the most affected countries to challenge and confront trappers in the field.

Here in the UK the robin is the nation’s favourite bird and, as in many countries, it has become a symbol of Christmas with millions of Robin images adorning cards, wrapping paper and packaging. How outraged would people be if they knew that this tiny bird also falls into the hands of the trappers?

“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul”. Thus wrote Emily Dickinson in her poem of the same name. One can only hope that concerted international effort can end this cruelty.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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