The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: January 12, 2017
The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain

"Silvestrismo", a variety of bird trapping, is the practice of capturing and captive training of certain wild birds in order to exploit their singing abilities. Because of their beautiful songs, the targets of this kind of bird trapping are usually birds from the finch family.

This is an old tradition that primarily takes place in southern Spain, although the rest of the world is not exempt from the sad hobby of live bird trapping. Many countries, such as Malta, have a long history of illegal bird trapping regardless of the specific laws of the European Union.

Like bullfighting, silvestrismo or live bird trapping is an old tradition rooted in family culture and in the heritage of their ancestors. Practitioners of bird trapping will strongly defend the capture of wildlife for their entertainment. Why is that? Can it be defended? Discover the dark side of bird trapping in Spain in this AnimalWised article.

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What is silvestrismo or live bird trapping?

Practitioners of silvestrismo or live bird trappers must meet certain requirements if they want to hunt birds and have them in their possession legally in Spain. Every year, the state allocates a certain number of licences that can be obtained through a bird society. If you want to practice bird trapping in Spain you will first need a membership card and then a trapping license.

It could be argued that this is a rather strict ruling, since licensed trappers can't have any finches in their possession until the second year, and there is a maximum capture limit of 10 to 11 birds per season, even when you're a veteran.

Lovers of bird trapping focus on certain species of birds, including:

  • Goldfinches
  • Wild canaries
  • Fringilla finches
  • European greenfinches
  • European serins
  • Linnets
  • Eurasian siskin
  • Bullfinches
  • Common linnets

As you can see, some of these birds are among the best singing birds in the world. Silvestristas or bird trappers argue that they love hearing the beautiful song of their catches when they wake up in the morning and that they are fascinated by the beauty of their feathers.

While that is understandable, it can be questioned whether they are actually moved by selfishness, and whether humans have the right to keep wild animals even if it may cost them their lives.

The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain - What is silvestrismo or live bird trapping?

How are songbirds trapped?

For the first year, a novice bird trapper can't hunt on their own; they must be accompanied by a veteran to instruct them. The technique is quite old fashioned, and it involves the laying of a net and a "lure" to attract other wild birds. The lure consists of a previously caught bird which works as a decoy. However, according the the EU Birds Directive amendments live decoys and nets are forbidden.

Bird trappers in Spain put out seeds, birds tied up in string, birds in cages, and folding nets as lures. Some animal rights organisations such as AVDAN have strongly denounced some of the practices that certain hobbyists carry out.

The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain - How are songbirds trapped?
The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain -

What is a captive bird's life like?

The goldfinch is generally the most sought-after bird by bird trappers in Spain owing to its incredible singing ability, although the wild canary is also highly valued. Once captured, the licensed bird trapper needs to register the birds and provide them with a space to live. They generally create places called "aviaries" in which they categorize the birds.

The captured wild birds are often used to breed with other birds, which are trained to sing and later be entered in competitions for economic gain. In these photos you can see a canary aviary. The hygienic, health and dietary conditions of many aviaries are perfectly acceptable, and even of high quality. Even so, not all bird trappers are honest people or genuine enthusiasts: many only enter this world to make money.

Of course, we must underline that there is a difference between raising and training a bird born in captivity and taking a wild animal from its natural habitat, as a finch raised by humans would not be able to survive a different kind of life.

The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain - What is a captive bird's life like?

Forced molting

A widespread practice that is denounced by experts and associations is the forced molting of birds. This consists of placing an individual cage in a dark place, or even covering it with an opaque material.

Once inside, the bird can't orientate itself by daylight hours. This would normally help it know what time to get up, what time of the year it is, or whether or not it is time to eat. Forced molting is used to get birds to renew their entire plumage. However, since this doesn't occur naturally, their feathers could be of a poorer quality because they remain inside and are exposed to stable temperatures.

The lack of guidance and relationship with the environment causes an overall highly stressful situation for the bird. This type of technique needs carried out by experienced individuals. If carried out by novices, the captive finch's survival is not certain.

The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain - Forced molting

The direct consequences of bird trapping

Bird trapping is banned in lots of European countries, and there are increasingly fewer species of birds that can be caught and kept in captivity. Why is that? Many governments are joining arms in the protection of wildlife; a precious thing that is further diminished with each passing year. People steal whole broods, capture during breeding season leaving chicks without parents, etc.

All these malicious practices are undoubtedly the direct consequence of bird trapping; the hunting of live animals to then live out their life in a small cage.

Notable figures and shocking headlines:

  • In Spain there are between 50,000 and 55,000 licensed trappers.
  • 14,000 Andalusian trappers caged more than 100,000 songbirds - El Mundo 2010
  • 160 goldfinches were captured by a man who hunted birds in the Guadiana area - Hoy 2015
  • 13 goldfinches captured by novices - Mar TV 2015
  • 38 goldfinches and 80 linnets captured in Camponaraya - Diario de Leon 2015
  • 200 illegally captured finches released into the La Costera Natural Park - 2015
The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain - The direct consequences of bird trapping
The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain -

What is your opinion on live bird trapping?

Raising awareness that wild animals shouldn't be used for economic purposes, as currency or just for the thrill of capturing them is a task that all of society should take part in. Nowadays, animals have become another victim of illegal trafficking. Even if you respect the animal and care for it as it deserves, it should not spend its life locked in a small enclosure.

And what do you think? Whether you're a bird trapper or you disagree with this, leave your opinion about the dark side of bird trapping in Spain below.

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What did you think of this article?
Spurwing Plover
The Trappers belong behind bars the birds set free
Paula raccagna
Just seen this happening on a beach in Spain I feel sick
Alice Tapiol Breeze (AnimalWised editor)
Hi Paula,
I suppose there was an attatched picture, but we can't see it. You could maybe send it to our email

It SUCKS! We are watching our neighbor in Barcel
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Christina,

We needed to clarify a few things about the way the article was worded. They have been updated, so we hope they make more sense to you now. Sorry for any confusion!
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The Dark Side of Bird Trapping in Spain

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