Parts of Europe are now "death traps" for migrating songbirds, according to the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), which reports that millions of birds are illegally poached each year - literally.
The birds are often either pickled or poached for a Cypriot "delicacy" called ambelopoulia.
Pickled songbird might not sound appetizing to everyone but, like shark fin soup, bird's nest soup and turtle dishes, it's part nutrition, part adventure and part folk remedy for those who consume it. The dish is expensive and involves illegal practices but, due to poor regulation of laws protecting songbirds, it can still be found in many restaurants.
One restaurant owner with ambelopoulia on his menu likens it to Viagra.
(Blackcap bird, commonly found in ambelopoulia; Credit: Jakub Stanco)
According to the CABS, up to 10 million songbirds are illegally killed each year, often for this dish. The poachers may prepare it themselves or, more likely, sell the birds to restaurants and others who deal in this illegal trade. A single songbird may sell for around $3.60.
In addition to outright shooting the birds, poachers will kill them in all sorts of horrific ways, as videotaped by the CABS and reported on recently by .newyorker.com/online/2010/07/26/100726on_audio_franzen#ixzz0yBS0qP27">The New Yorker.
playing recordings of songbird calls to lure the birds into traps mist nets that trap the birds mid-flight (each net costs about $120 and use of lime-sticks A lime-stick is a twig that the poacher coats with a gray colored "glue," made from boiling fruits from the Syrian plum-tree. The coated stick is then tucked away where songbirds might land to rest. Once a bird lands on the lime-stick it cannot remove itself.
Struggling for hours, the birds hang and flap upside down, sometimes dying in the attempt to free themselves. Poachers later check their sticks and will kill any birds that are still alive. Images and more information about these hunting techniques are at this 10,000 Birds page.
The economic crisis in Greece and in other countries has only made matters worse. In addition to Cyprus, illegal songbird poaching is common in Malta and Italy, countries where the CABS sets up bird protection camps in the summer and autumn months, attempting to save as many birds as they can.
The illegal traps catch anything that lands on them, or flies into them, so many endangered species, such as certain owls, also become bycatch victims.
All of this comes at a time when animal welfare issues are just beginning to take root in Cyprus.
"The Cypriot government has laws readily available to be enforced that involve the welfare of animals, and dogs in particular, however, the infrastructure in dealing with issues of animal welfare is still in the very early stages," said Alexia Zalaf, a University of Leicester researcher who is hoping to improve animal welfare in Cyprus and in the United Kingdom.
She added, "Carrying out this research in Cyprus and the UK will provide much needed evidence into attitudes towards animal abuse, which is a newly established area. This research study will provide the framework for future researchers both in Cyprus and the UK to further develop the field."
"Eventually, our long term goal is to promote awareness of the phenomenon of animal abuse, and promote action not only by the general public but also by the responsible authorities," she added.
As for the illegal bushmeat trade, so often participants get involved in the illegal songbird food trade because they are hungry, have no other work, and it's fairly easy money for them. They wind up getting involved with what their friends are doing. I just hope that enforcement of hunting laws - meant to protect endangered species - will also be accompanied by education programs to help poachers redirect their energies into more productive, sustainable work.
WARNING: Graphic content in the following video: