Over 1.2 million migrating songbirds may be killed each year in Spain as they migrate between their breeding grounds in northern Europe and their winter habitat in Africa. Last week, a German volunteer organization called Vogelschutz, known in English as the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), released the first known video documentation of the gruesome crime.
Trapping songbirds was banned in Spain in 2003, but CABS said that the local authorities turn a blind eye to the practice. Volunteers took low light cameras and slipped into the illegal trapping gardens, called “paranys,” which are found in the province of Valencia. The trees are spiked with small sticks smeared with a sticky resin, often called limesticks, that trap the birds when they land. The more they fight, the more their feathers are smeared with the sticky substance, causing them to struggle until they fall in exhaustion.
CABS said that the Spanish authorities tend to ignore the songbird killings. In the video, one of the volunteers called the police to report the bird trapping site he found — but his complaint was brushed off. The songbirds are trapped not because they are harmful to crops but simply to be prepared and eaten as food.
There has been a lot of anger over the years between northern and southern Europe, with northern birders claiming that southern trappers are killing migrating songbirds in Cyprus, Malta, and Italy, in open defiance of European Union agreements. In 2009, a leading British ornithologist, Peter Cosgrove, published an article with the blunt title, “Cyprus simply cannot carry on killing everybody else’s birds.”
BirdLife Cyprus said last year that, despite a ban on trapping birds in the European Union that goes back to 1979, the practice of using limesticks to kill migrating birds still continues on Cyprus. Almost 3 million birds were trapped and killed in that country in the 2011-2012 migration season.
However, the government of Cyprus passed some of the blame back to the British, stating during this fall’s migration that much of the poaching was taking place on two military bases operated by the UK.
While people argue about who is supposed to enforce EU law, the poachers continue to victimize songbirds. CABS posted their German-language video evidence to You Tube. Warning: Some of the footage is extremely upsetting, as it shows trapped birds struggling as well as killed birds.
The migrating songbirds in the video appear to be song thrushes and blackcaps, but CABS said that sometimes rare and endangered species are trapped as well.
[song thrush photo by Benjamine Scalvenzi and Wikipedia]