Nov 8

Millions of migratory birds might die as a result of illegal glue-filled traps in Spain.

Song thrush image

Song thrushes are caught using illegal methods and sold on to tapas bars in Spain

Running the gauntlet

The long migration to warmer areas in the winter is an arduous and testing task for many birds. Yet for the millions of birds heading to Spain this week, the most dangerous part of the journey may, in fact, be their arrival at the final destination.

Illegal traps, known as parany traps, are being widely used by Spanish hunters. The method involves placing glue-covered twigs and spikes in thickets of trees and it is estimated that these traps may catch up to four million migrating birds.

Migratory bird species flying south to the warm Mediterranean climes, including song thrushes and mistle thrushes, will be at risk from hundreds, if not thousands, of parany traps set in Castellón, eastern Spain, and its neighbouring areas.

Mistle thrush image

Mistle thrush drinking

Trapping for tapas

While thrushes were once an important source of food in eastern Spain’s countryside region, the majority of the illegally trapped birds are now destined for Spanish bars, where they will be served as tapas. However, the local people state that this is a part of their cultural heritage which dates back to Roman times, and that the long-standing tradition should be allowed to continue: “There are pictures of parany traps in the mosaics of Pompeii,” said Miguel Angel Bayarri of the trappers’ Apaval association.

Although it is not illegal to hunt song and mistle thrushes, nor their cousins the redwing, it is illegal to use parany traps to do so.

Using birdsong recordings, birds are lured into thickets where their wings become glued together, preventing them from flying. Campaigners say that such a method contravenes European wildlife laws.

Robin image

Robin eating a berry

Collateral damage

Despite thrushes being the primary target, it is thought that up to two of every five birds that fall into parany traps are actually other migratory species, including robins, blackcaps and black redstarts. Local birds, such as warblers and owls, are also known to fall foul of the sticky traps. Mr Bayarri, however, said that this is only the case if the traps are badly operated, with members of his association only catching thrushes.

Mario Giménez, head of SEO/BirdLife in the eastern region of Valencia, stated that very few parany operators carry out the laborious and time-intensive task of rescuing non-target birds and releasing them: “Even those cleaned up with dissolvent often don’t survive.

Politicians have previously tried to legalise parany traps in Valencia’s regional parliament, but have been prevented from doing so by Spain’s higher courts. Campaigners are now calling upon the politicians to publicly condemn the traditional hunting practice as a contravention of EU law.

Black redstart image

Other migratory bird species, such as the black redstart, are also caught in the parany traps

Worrying times ahead

Despite the trappers’ Apaval association calling for members not to set traps this year, the use of this hunting method continues, with at least 340 functioning parany traps having been identified in the last few weeks. A spokesman from Spain’s Association of Environmental Affairs spoke of the scale of the problem: “They are only the first ones discovered so far this year. In previous years we have found some 2,000 traps.

Hunters caught setting parany traps can be fined up to €200,000 (£170,000), and could end up with a criminal record. However, the hunting appears to be ongoing.

The hunting continues, it is just not so flagrant,” said Mr Giménez. “We have seen the traps and heard the birdsong recordings that they use. Now when they hear a car, they do at least turn the machine off.

A general election is to be held on 20 November, and campaigners fear that a change in government could lead to authorities ignoring the severity of the situation and the impact it has on populations of migratory birds: “The People’s party is expected to win, and that is the same party that has tried to legalise this in Valencia,” said Mr Giménez. “We don’t want a new government turning the clock back.

Read more on this story at the The Guardian – Millions of birds migrating to Spain face painful deaths in glue-filled traps.

View photos and videos of birds on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Doug Norris (November 9th, 2011 at 12:07 am):

    I find it sad that the decimation of wildlife is justified by culture. Another factor that is often forgotten is the impact of population. The present day Spanish population is approximately the same as that of the entire Roman Empire at its height. The resultant habitat loss combined with hunting by a larger number of people should enable the Spanish to put conservation ahead of culture if they want to preserve the natural world for future generations.

  • Scott Luetticke (November 9th, 2011 at 12:12 am):

    Thanks for the interesting article. I run a Game Management Area and conservation is equally important to us. Here in the States, I think we have an advantage that our government systems do a better job of protecting our wildlife then other countries. It is also up to individuals and educating people about the importance of conserving our resources and how intricate the balance of nature can be for all. Each living thing affects another. I wonder what the effect the far reaching effects will be on the systems in Spain?

  • Doug Norris (November 10th, 2011 at 9:30 am):

    Unfortunately it’s an embarrassment to many developed countries that there conservation cultures are below par compared to many developing countries. For example no hunting is permitted by the public in state run nature reserves in South Africa, Botswana or Namibia. There are privately run hunting farms in these countries, but in public reserves wildlife has priority.

    I was astounded to learn that hunting is allowed in some state and public reserves in first world countries. Some people there thought that it was crazy to forbid the public to hunt in reserves.

    I also discovered that it is much more difficult to observe and photograph wildlife in so called reserves that allow hunting. For obvious reasons the distrust by wild life of people increases in places in which hunting takes place.