Where can you see the most Blackcaps in one place? Cyprus

ambelopoulia

There’s a beautiful male Blackcap defending a feeder tray in my garden at the moment, driving off Great, Blue, and Coal Tits with loud ‘tacks’ and open wing threat displays. It is, presumably, a German bird, as many of the Blackcaps we’re seeing in the UK derive form a population that moves westwards after breeding rather than across the Med and into Africa. I’m old enough that seeing a Blackcap in winter is still something notable – they were very, very scarce when I was younger: in ten years time perhaps birders will think they’re no more unusual than Redwings or Fieldfares.

I kind of hope so. As long as they can survive a northern winter the more the merrier I say. I really like Blackcaps. They’re attractive in a subtle way, their song is wonderful (not for nothing were they once known colloquially as ‘northern nightingales’) and seeing ‘my’ Blackcap obviously thriving makes me happy. It got me thinking though, and wondering where would be the best place to see a lot of Blackcaps in one place…

After – well, not a huge amount of thought, I realised that if I really want to see literally piles of Blackcaps, the place to go is Cyprus.

After all, data released by BirdLife Cyprus last year suggested that by the middle of October last year (2011), over 866,000 birds had been slaughtered in Cyprus, many trapped on lime-sticks or mistnetted – and many of those will have been Blackcaps, a prized species caught in huge numbers as they arrive in the autumn, covered with fat for the journey into Africa. Caught and killed for a snack, illegally, using an indiscriminate and cruel trapping method that only last month Antonis Kakoullis, the chairman of the Cyprus Hunting Federation, was suggesting people should be allowed to use on their own property.


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female blackcaps on a limestick

Photo copyright RSPB

Many of the birds trapped in Cyprus are plucked and sold as snacks known locally as ambelopoulia (pronouced ‘am-bell-o-boo-lia’). Despite it being illegal to sell ambelopoulia the banned ‘delicacies’ remain widely available, principally – so it seems – because some Cypriots refuse to acknowledge the impact this ‘tradition’ has on bird populations, and because the local government either actively supports restaurateurs by turning a ‘blind eye’ or doesn’t think that birds are worth protecting so can’t be bothered to enforce the law.



ambelopoulia

In 2008 only 9 restaurateurs were charged for serving ambelopoulia, and Martin Hellicar, Campaigns Director with BirdLife Cyprus, warned at the time that “bird trapping is coming back to haunt us in a big way and the reason is the same as it has always been: there is a lot of money to be made out of it, and it will continue as long as restaurants are allowed to break the law”.

He was right.

So, to cut a long story short, if you want to see one or two Blackcaps try the gardens of the UK in the winter or the northern forests in the summer – if you really want to see a lot of Blackcaps in one place try one of the restaurants in Cyprus that will serve you a whole plateful for the right money. They won’t look as exquisite or as lively as the one on my feeder right now – but it’ll be the same species…


BLClogo1 TN42 Martin Hellicar, BirdLife Cyprus updateBirdLife Cyprus is the Cyprus representative of BirdLife International – a globally active conservation organization that operates in over 100 countries and territories worldwide and is the recognized global authority on birds.

BirdLife Cyprus aims to promote the study and protection of the birds of Cyprus and their habitats, and to enable the citizens of Cyprus and other countries to play their part in achieving this goal

BirdLife Cyprus is working to bring an end to illegal bird trapping. Birds trapped on limesticks and in nets die a horrible death and are then sold for profit to be eaten as an expensive ‘delicacy’. Many birds of threatened species fall foul to the indiscriminate nets and glue sticks. A recent opinion poll showed that the majority of Cypriots are against this illegal activity.”

 

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

3 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Horrible, but vital to raise it. Great blog. I’ve become very fond of blackcaps, especially after last spring when I saw, and heard, absolutely loads working on woodland surveys. We’re getting a lot wrong in the UK but at least blackcaps are doing well. Always my favourite thing to hear drifting in through an open window in the spring.

    One of the cheif benefits of the EU, it seems to me, is that at least we have the law on our side going after this kind of thing. I wonder what chance there is of stronger pressure being put on states that can’t clean up their act?

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks for posting on this again Charlie!

  3. Basia says:

    This week I was listening to a past podcast from the New Yorker in which Jonathan Franzen addressed the subject of Blackcaps and other song birds being trapped in the cruellest manner in order to satisfy the bellies of visitors and residents in Cyprus. I first heard blackcaps 12 years ago in Portugal and their song fascinated me because I the birds were hidden from sight.

    What can be done about this cruel and hideous practice? Is there anyway the RSPB can partner up with other European bird associations to ensure stricter measures against the killers and traders in Cyprus and other countries in southern Europe? It breaks my heart to see the photographs here of these beautiful but helpless beings caught on lime sticks.

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