With its neat cap of black plumage upon its head, the little male blackcap is quite unmistakable.
Though a woodland bird, it’s a common and much-beloved sight in parks and gardens across Europe, where it comes in search of fruit and berries. Bird lovers, fond of its beautiful song – a rich musical whistling with a wide variety of notes – would be shocked to discover the dangers this “mock nightingale” faces on its migratory journey.
|Wingspan: 15-18 cm|
|Top speed: 75 km/h|
|Threat: Trapping, Shooting|
A flight for survival
In the Mediterranean, songbirds have been trapped for food for centuries. But the illegal, industrial scale trapping taking place in Cyprus today is nothing like past traditions. Lucrative demand for black market ambelopoulia, a so-called local blackcap “delicacy”, is driving the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.
At trapping blackspots, like the British Sovereign Base Area at Dhekelia and the Famagusta district, trappers use huge mist nets and glue sticks. These non-selective methods are not only a death trap for blackcaps, they also pose a danger for more than 150 other bird species, including iconic birds such as the Bee-eater, Red-backed shrike and Scops owl. Unwanted birds are simply killed and discarded.
Another cruel twist is the use of electronic calling devices to lure birds in huge numbers to their tragic fate. Captured birds, if they don’t die from shock, usually remain trapped and distressed for hours.
Our partner, BirdLife Cyprus, campaigns tirelessly to end the illegal killing, trapping and trade of birds on the island. Thanks to its long-running surveillance programme, it is the national expert on the bird trapping crisis and its ecological impact for migratory bird populations. Yet the profitable blackcap black market continues to flourish due to high demand for ambelopoulia – a secret trade estimated to be worth 15 million euros annually. BirdLife Cyprus is working hard to change attitudes and cultural perceptions so local communities come to see songbirds as a national treasure to be saved, not slaughtered.