Printer-friendly version

Hunting from shooting hides in Northern Italy

Italian hunters - ‘Flyway Robbery‘

Shooting hides block the migration routes to the southShooting hides block the migration routes to the southThere is scarcely a more effective bird killing method than hunting song birds from shooting hides. Complete flocks of birds are lured to their death, and daily hunting bags of 30 birds per hunter are common. The 11,000 Italian permitted hunting hides are crowded so closely together at strategic migration points that the birds have little chance of crossing the Alps unscathed.

The camouflaged shooting hides stand on extensive forest clearings. In autumn the Mountain Ash planted around the hides groan with the weight of bright red berries, and bird baths with fresh water are placed out invitingly next to heaps of food for the hungry migrants. But the birds are attracted most of all by the decoy birds perched in tiny cages. The birds are kept in dark cellars throughout the summer and only see the light of day when they are brought out to the hides for the autumn hunting season. Despite the miserable conditions in which they are kept for the rest of the year, the birds immediately begin to sing. For them the sudden brightness signals spring.

The actual shooting hide, a bunker or tower with shooting slits, is located in the centre of the installation. It often contains a camp bed and gas cooker so that the hunter can stay in the mountains overnight, always ready for action when the flocks of birds arrive.

Brambling as decoyBrambling as decoyThe sudden offer of food, water and singing birds of the same species must seem like paradise to the migrant birds that have just completed a weary journey across the snow covered 3,000 m high mountains of the central alpine chain. Whole flocks fall for the deception and descend onto the ideally positioned horizontal perches. When enough birds have settled the hunter shoots from his hide into the flocks. Good shooters can kill many more than the proverbial two birds with one stone.

Huntable species are Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Fieldfares, Redwings and Skylarks (see list of huntable species. The highest quota per hunter is 20 birds a day. Because that does not satisfy the hunter’s appetite, they lobby the politicians successfully every year to have the list of huntable species extended to include protected birds such as Chaffinches and Bramblings. CABS and its Italian partner organisations seek an injunction from the courts against the illegal permissions and win their case on almost every occasion.

On good migration days all shooting hides are occupied. The spring-like background noise of singing thrushes and larks is shattered by barrages of shots. The only chance the birds have of surviving is to pass through on Tuesdays and Fridays, when hunting is banned in Italy.

CABS members dismantle illegal nets on the property of a shooting hide ownerCABS members dismantle illegal nets on the property of a shooting hide ownerThis hunting method is totally dependent on decoy birds. Every hide has on average 20 decoy birds of which about 25 % die each year. The re-supply of birds bred in captivity covers only a small proportion of the annual losses. Most of the decoys are wild birds that are caught in nets. In order to retain the shooting hide ‘tradition’, and to secure the hunters’ votes at the next election, the North Italian regional governments grant permission every year for the trapping of birds in the gigantic installations known as roccoli, in clear contravention of the EU Birds Directive. In these trapping sites state appointed trappers monitor the mass trapping of thrushes and larks. The sale of birds taken from the wild is banned in Italy; but the state makes a large profit margin by charging hunters a ‘fee’ of some 120 Euros per bird.

As neither breeding nor state organised trapping meets the huge demand, the hunters themselves resort to trapping. An illegal mist net with decoy birds can be found in the immediate vicinity of every tenth shooting hide. Any excess to personal requirements lands on the black market and lines the hunter’s pockets. More than half of the nets used for trapping in Italy are set out to catch birds for decoy purposes and not for the cooking pot.

Freshly shot Waxwings confiscated from a shooting hide hunterFreshly shot Waxwings confiscated from a shooting hide hunterBut this is not the only way in which shooting hide owners break the law. Checks by the authorities and game wardens record offences by every fourth hunter. The main offence is the shooting of protected species. Favourite targets are Wagtails, Reed Buntings, Robins, Dunnocks, Goldfinches and Siskins.

The appalling reality is that more than 10 % of the shooting hide hunters are also convicted of poaching offences. This is of course only the tip of the iceberg, as many hunters are warned by their colleagues of the arrival of the monitoring officials and so have time enough to hide away the incriminating evidence.

Other frequent offences recorded are the trapping of birds with nets and traps and the use of electronic decoy devices. In addition many petty offences are registered such as improper completion of the carnet de chasse, use of unringed decoy birds, or exceeding the daily shooting quota of thrushes and larks.