4 and 20 Blackbirds baked in a pie – and robins and thrushes

Song bird slaughter

Many of us have been feeding songbirds all year and others will be joining in to provide small birds with food, in the form of seeds, nuts and fruit over the next winter months.

We don’t do it for any other reason than we like to see birds and with increasing loss of natural habitats to agriculture and building we do our bit to ensure they have enough food to keep them alive over the toughest period of the year.

I expect it’s not only the birds who are grateful for our efforts. There will be many people living around the Mediterranean, Spain and Cyprus who, if not actually grateful, should be.

These are people who earn money from selling songbirds onto restaurants and bars. The tapas you enjoyed on your holiday could well be the song thrush which delighted you with its song earlier in the year; its speckled breast not recognisable once plucked and roasted, so quite understandable that you hadn’t realised the bite, scarcely a bite, between drinks.

The RSPB tells us there has been a ‘catastrophic’ decline in bird species, and it’s not all down to loss of habitats. Somewhat more sensitive an issue is the part played by our fellow Europeans.

When the birds disappear from our gardens to fly south for the winter, the chances are they won’t be back. Many millions of small song birds are trapped and killed every year around the Mediterranean, including Cyprus and Spain, while migrating between Europe, Africa and the Middle East during spring and autumn.

The bird trappers yell out, hands off our traditions, echoing UK fox hunters. There are lots of people who demand the right to slaughter anything that moves. They like doing it. They get a thrill from it. They say it’s their right to carry on killing. Only they don’t call it killing. They call it culling or hunting or participating in sport. In Cyprus and Spain they make money from what was once an activity to put food in their mouths, no longer essential, but still carried out.

In Cyprus mist nets and lime sticks is still common for trapping, despite being illegal. Birds are attracted by whistles or recorded birdsong played over loudspeakers, now the trappers have moved into the 21st century. The birds are made into ambelopoulia – pickled or grilled songbirds. Some birds are more sought after than others but the birds not required usually die too.

Warblers, shrikes, redwings, chiffchaffs, flycatchers, robins, cuckoos, golden orioles, owls and hawks are among the most desired in Cyprus for ambelopoulia. Being tiny morsels then a diner will want several, perhaps a dozen or more. A warbler is worth around €4. By the time it’s cooked for the table, its value has increased.


In Malta and Italy hoopoes, golden orioles, bee-eaters, herons, storks and shearwaters are regularly shot and the popularity of the practice and determination of the bird hunters is increasing, as is the demand for the birds in restaurants.

More common in Spain is the use of parany or sticky traps. This involves attaching poles to trees, forming a screen which is covered with glue or lime. The trappers use electronic lures to entice birds to roost in the trees. The birds’ wings gets stuck to the glue or to another’s feathers as they try to free themselves and they fall to the ground where they are collected by the trappers who crush their skulls between his thumb and fingers or wring their necks.


As these countries are part of the EU there have been campaigns to outlaw these ‘traditional practices’ but despite the odd court case the incidences of trapping and shootings of small migrating birds is on the increase on the continent as well as in Africa.

Each country is responsible for the death of countless millions of small birds each year and campaigns to stop the slaughter have come to nothing. So do what you can for the birds in your garden but don’t get too attached or imagine they will survive the migration because the chances are you will be snacking on them next time you holiday in Cyprus, Malta, Italy or Spain.


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