Rifles vs Binoculars

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

Robins are to America as chaffinchs are to Europe…except Malta. Perhaps Cyprus. Nah, toss the whole boot of Italy in.

Europe, the shining model of environmental health, always chiding others about their carbon emissions, is home to songbird graveyards on the shores of the Mediterranean, an ocean where birds have a typical migration to Eurasia to breed. Waiting for them, unfortunately, are hunters poised at the ocean with rifles. And you know how the story ends for the birds.

A shrike trapped on the lime stick by the tenacious glue.

Jonathan Franzen’s article “Emptying the Skies” in this week’s issue of the New Yorker magazine is a stunning, fresh perspective on bird-killing in Europe. He starts his journey in Cyprus, following the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), as they rid lime sticks slathered on with glue by neutralizing the sticky substance and snapping it in half. Of course, the trap can only be meant to capture common warblers such as blackcaps, or ambelopoulia, but that doesn’t stop other birds from seeing them as perches. Rare birds writhing in glue, desperately trying to get free and fly away, taint their own images: no one wants to see one of these shy sights if they are suffering. The CABS team members free the birds regularly, keep the ones that aren’t able to fly, and end the sufferings of those that are crippled.

The restaurants serve ambelopoulia, somehow having a stock always ready despite the fact that all forms of bird trapping as been outlawed. That’s when a boom in lime-stick and electronic recording use arrived. There are even large plantations: invisible nets are laced among acacia trees like spidersilk. Electronic recordings of birdsong attract migrants to nest in the trees, and then a massacre occurs at dawn as poachers chuck stones at the birds to send them into the hungry nets.

Cyprus: an experimental spring season for hunting doves and quail

Malta: opened its first spring season

Italy: fall season extension

And the results can’t sneak by unnoticed when anyone can tell a morning with birdsong from a morning without. In Malta, considerably the most bird-hostile nation in Europe, the public are actually against hunting. Tourism is a major industry of the country, and there have been numerable complaints from those who have witnessed the huntings and poachings, regardless of whether or not they have been threatened or bullied by hunters. The typical Maltese (I hope that’s the right adjective) citizen dislikes bird hunters. You only have to look at the “No Trespassing” signs on what was public land. However, the country just doesn’t have the manpower, the willpower, to punish the hunters. Many of the police ignore the flood of complaints or are friends with someone that is a hunter.

Even after the E.U. Birds Directive announced that killings of common, protected species in small numbers was legal as long as it was for judicious use (too many birds near airports, subsistence hunting in rural areas), Malta defended itself by saying that the bird hunt was a tradition. However, you’d find that the “tradition” of passing the rifle down from father to son has changed into a pastime—no, a mania—for teenagers and young adults, especially since the age limit of 21 has been lowered to 18. The E.U. Birds Directive did a lot of plowing through and certainly sweated through the whole process of administering hunting limits and such, but one tiny country threatened to tear it down, a bad example that was also a bad model for the countries that would follow.

Franzen met with an old-fashioned hunter who told him that it was in their blood. “If you were born of a prostitute,” he said, “you won’t become a nun.”

When the law tries to box the hunters in, the wealthiest go abroad, something that was already happening. Travel to Egypt and you can hire a policeman that would fetch your kills while you shot at globally threatened waterfowl until you had climbed onto an Everest of carcasses, something particularly horrifying that I had learned form the article. It is the “Shop Until You Drop” of bird hunting!

Luckily, a glimmer glimmered from the rest. Franzen meets Anna Giordano, who has been campaigning against bird hunting for a while and trying to turn its followers from hunting birds to falling for them. She talks about how a terrible poacher she met years back recently came up to her and told her, “You said the day would come when I would love the birds instead of killing them. I just came up here to tell you you were right. I used to say to my son, when we were going out, Have you got the gun? Now I say, Have you got the binoculars?” I enjoy reading hope among unresolved issues and I smiled inside when I read this.

Being a bird lover (why do you think the blog’s name is as is?), I am against bird hunting, but I do understand for the people that have to hunt to eat. In fact, bird hunting/poaching used to be able to let someone make a living, and the law did rip it away from them. Still I stand my ground: it’s outrageous for people to be going around shooting whatever they can, especially endangered birds. Animal hospitals in Italy all share the same sad stories over and over: raptors blinded, songbirds scattered with lead shot, waterfowl burned from acid. It takes the bird away from them. It takes the life away from them. And I wonder how hunting could be such fun: you better be good at it and end their life quickly, or you shouldn’t think about it at all. I had never heard about this ordeal, and I hope that it gets fixed soon, instead of constantly being overlooked as a minor issue, because each bird that you see dead on the ground, or lying on your plate, once was an animal that had a life, a mate, offspring, and a downy feather-lined nest that it will never sleep in again.


  1. Jingle says:

    u r such a smart one…
    lovely information!

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