Songbirds for Restaurants
In northern Italy, "polenta uccelli" is a traditional autumn delicacy. The birds are grilled on a spit and served with a portion of corn porridge (polenta), as well as a local sausage. Particularly popular are robins, of which hundreds of thousands were once caught in the region with bow traps. When the hunting law came into force in 1992, Italy transposed the EU Birds Directive and prohibited the sale of shot songbirds.
By the late 1990s, many restaurants, especially in Bergamo and Brescia, simply ignored the ban. Investigations by the authorities and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) have led to numerous criminal proceedings against restaurateurs, so that "Polenta uccelli" gradually disappeared from the menus. Around 2005, resourceful poultry traders discovered a gap in the Italian Nature Conservation Act, which made it possible to import songbirds from outside of Europe. Within a short time, the songbirds reappeared in the restaurants. Only after a CABS campaign in 2014 was the loophole in the law finally closed for good.
And yet, still songbirds are served to paying customers. Especially in small inns and trattorias in the mountains of Lombardy there are back rooms where familiar faces amongst the community are served accordingly. Some of the restaurants advertise the offer brazenly: "Spiedo" which means "spit" in Italian. An inn that puts up the sign "Spiedo" on the side of the road could mean all kinds of food prepared on a spit. But insiders know that there could also likely be songbirds on offer. The authorities are almost powerless against such schemes as long as there is no clear evidence.
During our bird protection operations the CABS members also conduct investigations to root out the restaurants illegally offering songbirds. But even for locals from nearby cities it is difficult to get served up without appropriate local recommendations.