Saturday, November 19, 2011

Killing Songbirds for European Cuisine

In yesterday's Loose Feathers, I linked to a report on an incident in which Hungarian officials seized a shipment of about 10,000 illegally-killed songbirds. The dead songbirds were most likely headed for restaurants in northern Italy. Traffic in wild songbirds is unfortunately routine in Europe, even though it is officially illegal in most of the EU. The most famous of the trafficked songbirds is probably the endangered Ortolan Bunting, part of Francois Mitterrand's last meal. However, many other species are also involved. Conservation organizations in Europe are doing their best to curtail the trade in songbirds, with mixed success so far.

Bee-eater / Photo credit: BirdLife Cyprus
Cyprus has been a center of songbird trapping, particularly during migration seasons when many birds are passing through the island on their way to and from mainland Europe. This fall almost 867,000 birds had been killed by mid-October.
The toll is estimated on the basis of field data from BirdLife’s ongoing field monitoring of trapping activity with mist nets and limesticks, part of a systematic surveillance programme. This latest estimate – 866,905 birds- represents the number of birds killed between Thursday 1st September and Sunday 9th October 2011. The trappers are after Blackcaps and other songbirds, which will end up as illegal, and expensive, ambelopoulia delicacies served up in law-breaking restaurants, allowing the trappers to make huge profits. The first estimate for the autumn 2011 season, posted on September 12th, was for almost 90,000 birds, but trapping has gained pace since then. The estimate will be updated every Monday until the end of October.
BirdLife Cyprus is asking birdwatchers and other wildlife lovers to sign an online petition asking the government of Cyprus to intervene. So far over 15,000 people have signed.