Famed for its welcoming weather, Portugal is home to tits, robins, finches and other songbirds all year round. Their numbers swell in Autumn when birds from northern Europe seek refuge in milder climate. But for thousands of birds every year, the illusion of safety is shattered by the snap of bird traps.
An estimated 283,000 birds were
caught in traps in Portugal between
2011 and 2017, to be sold as pets or
eaten as a delicacy.
In most cases, the perpetrators went unpunished. This is mainly due to Portuguese law that only banned using traps, not making, owning, or selling them. Essentially, it meant that perpetrators had to be caught in the act of trapping birds.
The use of indiscriminate traps such as lime-sticks, snares, and snap-traps endangers bird populations and disrupts the balance of ecosystems, jeopardizing the health of agricultural fields since songbirds play a crucial role in pest control.
For years, our Portuguese Partner, SPEA, has worked tirelessly to bring this slaughter to the attention of authorities, politicians, and citizens. This effort resulted in a petition that gathered over 4000 signatures and forced the parliament to discuss a more comprehensive ban. As a result of this pressure, the law was revised in 2021: it now bans not only the use but also the sale of indiscriminate traps. Anyone selling these traps now risks fines of up to €18,000.
The updated law makes it more difficult to commit crimes against nature and enables authorities to intervene before any birds are captured or killed. Unfortunately, Portugal is not yet the haven it could be for songbirds, as a motion to ban the manufacture and ownership of traps was rejected.
Meanwhile, SPEA continues to carry out activities to ensure that the current law is effectively implemented on the ground. The organization has been working with all levels of the justice system – from police officers on the ground to prosecutors and judges in courtrooms – to raise awareness of the scale and impact of illegal bird trapping. The hope is that the illegal killing of birds will be taken more seriously, perpetrators will be appropriately punished, and others will be dissuaded from committing the same crimes.