Combating bird crime

Campaign Against Illegal Bird Trapping

Illegal bird trapping with mist nets and limesticks is a widespread and serious problem in Cyprus. It is an illegal, non-selective, and cruel practice mostly carried out at hotspot areas in Larnaca and Famagusta districts. It involves the indiscriminate and large-scale killing of thousands of birds every year, with the worst year, since our records began, being 2014 with an estimated 2.5 million birds killed. Because it is non-selective and large-scale, bird trapping contributes to an ecological catastrophe of our common heritage and our natural environment. This bird crime is undertaken to meet the local demand for the illegal consumption of songbirds sold either at restaurants or at home, and has become an illegal, profitable ‘business’ of the order of millions of euros. A relevant report, prepared by BirdLife International, assessed the scale of illegal bird killing around the Mediterranean, placing Cyprus among the 5 worst countries (The Killing report, 2016).  

Our campaign against illegal bird trapping

The campaign against illegal bird trapping is one of our most important long-term activities. This problem will only stop with the adoption and implementation of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach and BirdLife Cyprus is determined to carry on fighting until this is achieved. To tackle this problem, our work focuses on three main categories: systematic monitoring, lobbying and educational and awareness-raising outreach.

Trapping for consumption: past and present

Illegal bird trapping during spring and autumn (the two main trapping periods) targets mainly the capture and consumption of ambelopoulia (ambelopouli is the Cypriot name for the Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla. However, this term is normally used as a more generic term or collective noun that includes over 40 different songbird species that are caught on limesticks and mist nets. Illegal bird trapping also takes place extensively during the winter, targeting mainly the capture and consumption of Song thrushes Turdus philomelos. 

Historically, trapped birds were a food supplement for the mostly poor island inhabitants living off the land. The practice of bird trapping in Cyprus has been recorded in historical documents from the Middle Ages and even earlier times. Trapping as practiced in Cyprus today, using mist nets and / or limesticks, with the use of electronic calling devices to attract birds, bears no relation to the ‘traditional’ practice, which was also of a non-selective nature. Nowadays, illegal bird trapping in Cyprus is widespread and extensive, taking place at an industrial scale, contributing to the large-scale killing of hundreds of thousands of migratory and resident birds.  

A recent academic study undertaken in Cyprus by the University of Cyprus has shown that the use of electronic calling devices is highly effective in luring birds towards trapping sites (Sebastianelli M. et al, 2020), increasing the number of individuals of target bird species captured by 6 to 8 times. In addition, the study showed that calling devices increase the capture of non-target species (bycatch), with the authors concluding: ‘Our findings thus show that in contrast to popular belief that tape lures are a selective trapping method, they also lead to increased captures of non-target species, which can include species of conservation concern’. 

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