In many southern European countries, live decoys are legally used to hunt songbirds. Up until 2012, special permits allowed bird trapping to "preserve the tradition" of decoy hunting. The supply of decoy birds must now be maintained by captive bred birds - exceptions exist for certain countries, like France.
The problem: Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Eurasian Skylarks can theoretically be bred in captivity, but the effort and associated costs are very high. The price for a bred thrush quickly rises above 200€, which is too expensive for most buyers. In addition, the existing breeders are far from being able to cover the large demand.
In order to prevent "breeders" from catching birds with nets, birds must be fitted with closed rings which can only be fitted when they are chicks. This practise is being undermined by the alleged breeding farms. Their trick: they rob chicks of the affected species from wild nests, ring the young and sell them as offspring to hunters.
Nest robbery is particularly common in the fruit-growing area of South Tyrol in Italy. An unusually large number of thrushes breed in the apple orchards around Bolzano and Merano. The trees are barely three metres high, making the nests easily accessible. The proximity of the northern Italian provinces of Brescia and Bergamo - the main hubs demanding live decoys in Italy - also makes South Tyrol a popular destination for chick thieves. It is estimated that at least 20,000 young birds are illegally stolen from nests and sold as offspring every year.
Chicks or eggs from birds of prey are also repeatedly taken from the wild to be used for falconry or for bird collectors in search of rarities. In Central Europe, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and Peregrine Falcons are commonly targeted. In Southern Europe, the target species are Lanner Falcons and Bonnelli's eagles. In some cases, there are permits for this practice, but as a rule it is prohibited.