Did you know? Greece has up to 6,000 islands. It also has a rich diversity of flora and fauna – and birds are no exception. Due to its unique geographical location, Greece boasts a large variety of birds; being the southern limit for some species, and the northern limit for others.

And yet, flying in Greek skies is no safe space for our feathered friends: between 485,000 and 922,000 birds are poached in Greece every single year.

And those numbers don’t even include the illegal trapping and trafficking of birds in cages.1 Songbirds such as Goldfinches, Serins and Greenfinches are illegally trapped and sold in open markets or pet shops. This mass trapping mainly takes place during autumn migration between September and October, and mostly in the Aegean islands. The perpetrators use two so-called “traditional” techniques: limesticks (ksoverges), and pools (limnes), where birds are lured by the calls of other birds trapped in cages, placed close to man-made pools and feeding areas. In Greece, although spring hunting has been illegal since 1985, it is still a common practice in Western Greece and especially in the Ionian Islands. Every spring, thousands of birds, mainly European Turtle-doves (Streptopelia turtur), are poached during their migration from sub-Saharan Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe and Central Asia.

Though the hunting of European Turtle-doves during its breeding season is forbidden by EU law, the problem persists across many parts of the Mediterranean. In Greece, gunshots shower upon the Turtle-dove as it stops to rest in the Ionian Islands, exhausted after an epic flight over desert and sea. Over 70,000 Turtle-doves are estimated to be slaughtered here each spring, making it one of the worst blackspots along the African-Eurasian flyway.

Greece is also among the top three countries that poach the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus). A significant percentage of the European population of this species is present in Greece. Unlike many other countries where birds are poached for sustenance, the majority of the birds trapped or killed in Greece are for “sport” or to be caged.

What does the law say? In Greece, licenced hunting is legal for people with a rifle permit, in specific seasons, for 31 bird species. Specific hunting methods such as nets, traps, lures, hooks, via engine boats and cars are forbidden.

Unfortunately, as the numbers show, the law alone is not enough. That’s where BirdLife partner HOS comes in. HOS – the Hellenic Ornithological Society, is a nature conservation NGO dedicated to the protection of wild birds and their habitats in Greece since 1982. Among many other activities, they are using a database to monitor and study cases of bird crime, collecting evidence via citizens’ reports and monitoring projects, and reporting them to the authorities. HOS has fought countless battles in court on illegal shooting and trapping, and is a long-term advocate for increasing the presence of the enforcement authorities in Greece’s worst poaching hotspots. Whilst better law enforcement should help to underpin efforts to tackle this issue on the ground, bird crime in general is a low priority for Greek institutions. That’s why HOS works tirelessly to raise awareness about this issue among the Greek public and authorities, and puts a lot of effort into environmental education with the hope that future generations will ensure safe flyways in Greece.

1. Brochet et al. (2016) Preliminary assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean. Bird Conservation International, , Volume 26, Issue 1.

The Hellenic Ornithological Society is an environmental non-profit organization that aims to protect wild birds and their habitats in Greece.

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