Nature Nature embodies tranquility and awe-inspiring wonders, it also offers a vast space for contemplation and reflection.

July 10 2024

Illegal Bird Trapping

You would think that in this day and age, birds could live their lives peacefully. I was quite shocked when I recently saw these figures from Bird Protection Flanders about illegal bird trapping. Several cases have even made it to court.



Facts and Figures

Here are some notable facts and figures about the lawsuits: These cases often involve persistent behavior by perpetrators who have been engaging in this activity for generations and show no awareness of guilt. In one case involving the trade of frozen starlings, the defendant was found to have captured and traded a total of 65,399 starlings between 2001 and 2023. During inspections by the Nature Inspectorate, the following were discovered in various cases:

  • 427 live birds: including finches, goldfinches, bruisers, redpolls, siskins, starlings, greenfinches, crossbills and 'black' pheasants (bred pheasants for illegal restocking)
  • 8,384 dead birds (found when caught red-handed by the Nature Inspectorate or traded in the past as shown by the accounting records found)
  • at least 344 traps.
  • large sums of cash: € 103,035 in cash was found in 1 case. The man is said to have traded 10,000 starlings, 400 snipes, 400 hares and 20 deer in 2022.
  • in several cases also poison, live decoys and/or weapons

The penalties vary from case to case. Effective prison sentences of 6 months were demanded on several occasions and requested fines amounted to €8,000.


I’m not sure if this tradition exists in other countries, but in Flanders, Belgium, there’s a practice called “Vinkenzetting,” or “Finch sitting.” This tradition dates back to Flemish merchants in 1596 and is considered part of traditional Flemish culture. Participants gather on a closed-off street, each with a numbered box containing a male finch. It is a competitive sport where the male common chaffinches compete to make the highest number of bird calls in an hour. The proximity of the cages increases the number of calls, as the birds sing for mates and to establish territory. 

Vinkenzetting Deinze. The long black rod is used for counting.

Vinkenzetting Deinze. The long black rod is used for counting.

There has to be silence in that street. When I’m on my bicycle, I always ignore those closed-off streets and ride through, enjoying all the angry looks. No one has said anything so far, but if they did, my only response would be, “Stick yourself in a box and sing for an hour, and see how much you like it.” 

Various studies show that the starling population has been declining since the late 1970s. At the European level, the population of the species decreased by 52% between 1980 and 2011. In Flanders, the evolution of the starling population is also described as problematic by the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO). Between 2007 and 2018, a 36% decline was recorded in Flanders. These illegal traps aren't exactly helping. 

Photo Finch sitting By Donarreiskoffer - Own work, CC BY 3.0. 

Photo Starling by ArWeltAtty Attila.