Bird hunting: Which bird species are affected?
Literally every bird species in Europe or the Middle East are the victims of hunting and poaching. Above all, non-selective traps such as limesticks and nets catch the non-target species indiscriminately. However, not all bird species are equally affected :
Singbirds are the main target of bird hunters and trappers in the Mediterranean-area, the Middle East and North-Africa. Starlings, skylarks, blackbirds, song thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, can be hunted almost everywhere. Thrushes and larks are also caught illegally with nets, to be used as live decoys for hunting.
Finches are often caught with clap nets, gill nets or small cage traps to be kept or sold as cage birds. Goldfinches, linnets, bullfinches and greenfinches are particularly affected. In some areas, especially in Italy and Lebanon, they are also eaten.
Warblers are considered a delicacy in many countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Blackcaps and garden warblers, which are either caught illegally or shot, are very popular mets. Chats, redstarts and wheatears are particularly sought-after in Italy. They are usually caught with traps, but some are also hunted with shotguns.
In some regions, buntings are sought after by gourmets. Particularly in France, where Ortolan buntings ("fat bunting") are caught with traps.
Swallows are also targeted in the Mediterranean and are only killed because they are difficult to hit with their agile flight. In the Middle East, large numbers of swallows are shot illegally, some to eat but the vast majority are shot just for target practice.
Birds of Prey and Owls
In the north of the Alps, birds of prey are still a thorn in the side of many small game hunters, poultry and pigeon keepers. They are regarded as pest predators of pheasants poults (released for shooting), domestic-chickens or racing pigeons. They are targeted with poison, traps or firearms. Particularly affected are hawks, peregrine falcons, red kites, buzzards and eagle owls. This form of bird of prey persecution is prevalent in Great Britain, Germany and Austria.
In parts of southern Italy, birds of prey - especially honey buzzards and marsh harriers - are shot as part of an old masculinity ritual. On Malta, on the other hand, it is a trophy hunt where the birds are subsequently stuffed and collected as taxidermy. In Lebanon, on the other hand, some birds of prey are eaten.
Occasionally falconers and animal traders illegally take young birds or eggs from the nests of hawks, large falcons and other birds of prey in order to use the animals as mating birds for hunting. Permits or authorisations are rarely granted for this purpose.
Storks, Herons, Cormorants and other large birds
Herons and cormorants are also targeted as "fishing pests" by anglers and fishermen. Some even have legal permits to do so. However, while herons are protected almost everywhere, cormorants can now be hunted quite regularly in many EU countries. Occasionally, divers and mergansers are targeted by the fishermen.
Water birds, such as ducks and geese, can be legally hunted almost everywhere in Europe. In some countries, only common species such as mallards and greylag geese can be legally shot. However, rarer species, such as the Barnacle Goose and Bean Goose, the Whistling duck, Teal and Garganey, can also be shot in some regions. Mute Swans and coots are also often legally huntable.
Because they are large and generally non-migratory, game birds are a preferred hunting prey throughout Europe and the Middle East. They can be easily bred and released with food and suitable habitat. The Ptarmigan (snow grouse) is a popular game bird in northern Europe, whilst hunters in Mediterranean countries can hunt the Chukar, Red-legged and Grey Partridge. In central and Western Europe, game keepers release hundreds of thousands of Common Pheasants every year, to have a large number of easy targets around regular organised shoots.
The Common Quail is the only migratory bird among the game birds of Europe. It is one of the most popular huntable species, altough it is currently endangered across its range, but also bred in large numbers for hunting. The main problem is that hunters cannot differentiate wild and captive-reared birds, thus, the impact hunting has on the wild populations cannot be evaluated. The Common Quail is an important source of food in Mediterranean countries and the Balkans. On Malta they are also caught with nets. The use of illegal electronic decoys to hunt quails is widespread in Italy, Serbia, the Balkans, Malta and Cyprus.
Although most waders are endangered across their range, they are still huntable in many countries of Europe. Northern Lapwings, snipes and Eurasian Woodcocks are particularly targeted. German hunters still enjoy shooting the endangered Eurasian Woodcock - the birds are considered delicacies.
Pigeons are intensively hunted in many European countries. As "traditional hunting prey" all species are released for shooting. Woodpigeons and Collared Doves are very popular in central Europe and the endangered Turtle Dove is a very sought-after bird in the Mediterranean.
On Malta, Turtle Doves are also caught with nets or ladder traps, in order to subsequently use them as live decoys for hunting. The traps are currently illegal, but there has been derogations to allow the use of nets in the past.
Corvids (Crow family)
Corvids are heavily targeted almost everywhere in Europe. They are considered as "pests" to agriculture or as predators of young game birds. The reasons given for shooting Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies, Jays, Jackdaws and Ravens are often flimsy, at best. In most cases, it is only a matter of having additional species on the shooting list.