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Danger! Danger!

July 21, 2010

My bird musings are usually of a peppy, perky, optimistic nature. Birds are cool creatures. I’m learning how to become a better observer, they’re teaching me lots of stuff, and make me happy. So, lately, I’ve been basking in my aura of bird-bliss and have totally forgotten about the fact that not everybody on earth is as blissed out on birds as I am, and that a non-negligible population on this planet is really into eating birds. And by “eating birds” I don’t mean chicken or turkey or cornish hens or even, say pigeon (which I have, on more then one occasion, done myself and quite enjoyed). Have no fear, this is NOT going to be a vegetarian rant of any sort; I’m as carnivore as they come. What I mean by folks who like to “eat birds” are the people who enjoy feasting on SONG BIRDS and do so in large, unsightly numbers.

Here I was living in my little bird-paradise bubble, loving life, enjoying the sunshine, dreaming of the new binoculars I’m about to receive on my birthday (well, a few months from now, but it’s never too soon to start planning for my birthday), and fantasizing about setting my alarm clock to 5am again about a month from now, once birding-vacation is over.

All of that until today, when I picked up the New Yorker, as I do every Wednesday afternoon when it arrives in my mailbox and was stunned to find Jonathan Franzen’s brilliant and deeply disturbing article about the slaughter of song birds in the Mediterranean. For a precis of his article, you can listen to the podcast. It turns out that countries of Cyprus, Italy and Malta hunt millions of song birds every year and consider eating them a fine cultural practice. Franzen tells us that 1 BILLION birds that migrate through Europe every year are killed.

Here’s what you could have for dinner in Cyprus:

That would be a Blackcap Warbler (Sylvia atricapilla), a delicacy in many a restaurant. Apparently one of the reasons Malta resisted entering the EU because of the restrictions the European union places on hunters. Hm…Can’t kill quite as many warblers now?

I had no idea such common species of warblers are now becoming endangered. Apparently Italy is such a bird-unfriendly place that you hardly see them anywhere! They’re all on someone’s plate.

Sorry for the downer of a post. Bird-slaughter makes me angry (especially when it’s done with such brutality — read Franzen’s article — and for such a senseless purpose).

But on a more positive note, the article is just another reason why I think reading the New Yorker makes you a better person. Not only do you get to read great writing, wacky profiles of people you never knew existed (such as a physicist turned origami artist), and you get to see Bird Issues publicized to a wider public (and such bird events as the Freaks and Beaks film festival that I sadly had to miss due to the fact that …well, due to many factors).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 1:23 am

    That IS disturbing, Julia. I’m almost afraid to listen to the podcast and I’m sure it will make me mad too! Over here we have tons of song birds, and I love to wake up to their morning chatter. Our village seems like some kind of a bird sanctuary. I’ve never been around so many birds! Maybe they all stop here because they know down south they won’t be safe!

    I saw a play once that had the following line in it: “life is too short for reading the New Yorker”. I’ve always kind of agreed with that, but maybe I should reevaluate.

    • July 22, 2010 8:53 am

      I am a huge fan of the NYorker, but the only problem is that it’s a weekly — I never manage to keep up! Sort of wish it were a monthly rather than a weekly. But I love their cartoons and love keeping up with NY movies, for some reason…

  2. July 22, 2010 12:26 pm

    Hi. Thanks for checking out my Anne Fadiman post (and others). So glad to know a fellow Fadiman fan, and once-academic. My post today on Lorna Crozier has a follow- up next week, in which I discuss being late to reading, and Crozier uses birds for that discussion. If you can remember to visit, do check it out. (I’m off on holiday. And what’s in my bag? Two months’ worth of unread issues of The New Yorker….)

  3. July 22, 2010 6:21 pm

    That’s hideous. Eating songbirds. There is, apparently, a Chinese saying that goes something like, “We’ll eat anything with legs that isn’t a table and anything with wings that isn’t a plane.” That doesn’t sound too promising either.

  4. July 24, 2010 5:21 pm

    I haven’t read the piece yet (I do my New Yorker reading at the public library when we’re in Tucson), but I have to say that it’s more than a little unfair to say that Italy is “such a bird-unfriendly place that you hardly see them anywhere.”

    That was certainly true in a none-too-distant past, but no longer. If you look at the list from my most recent Tuscany tour, you’ll find Blackcap recorded on 11 out of 11 days, and eight other warbler species made the tally (and remember that the lists at are all somewhat understated because of the rule against “leader-only” birds).

    That said, the Mediterranean is still a tough place to be a bird, and Malta is a gory battleground still. I understand that the slaughter has gone largely underground on Cyprus, but apparently you can still get pickled passerines in the ‘right’ places.

    • July 26, 2010 11:03 am

      The part about Italy was quoted from the podcast, not the actual article. I’ll check out the list from your Tuscany tour!

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