Even though the capture of birds with birdlime is prohibited by law in many countries…

Trapping Birds With Birdlime.

…nevertheless, hunting birds with birdlime is a very popular practice worldwide, knowledge about it, passed from one generation to the next.

We’d talked about trapping birds with birdlime, but we never had gone to the forest to do it.

The truth was that I’d never hunted little birds, less of all with birdlime. My friend Raoul,” The Sullen” as he was widely known, was the expert on the subject; he was the one who bragged about having a lot of knowledge about it, transmitted to him by his elder brother, and previous experience trapping birds with birdlime.

To be honest, I didn’t have any interest in little birds, but I was very attracted by the excursion to the forest and felt intrigued by the method that we were going to use to trap birds.

Besides, Raoul, “The Sullen”, had promised me to release — unharmed — all trapped birds not being goldfinches, for the only type of bird he wanted was a goldfinch to make a companion to the one he owned.

“The Sullen” was older than me and was always wearing black (I wonder if people called him that way because of that).

He was 16 years old, three years older than me, and he boasted of having a lot of experience at many things. He was tall and skinny, always wearing a black wool sweater, which apparently he never dropped.

I woke up and got out of bed very early the next day. It was cold but it wasn’t snowing. It was still dark when I took a shower, dressed up, and had some breakfast, which my aunt had prepared the night before for me.

True to his word, “The Sullen” showed up down below, waiting for me at the entrance hall of my building.

He was carrying a double cage covered by a piece of fabric on one side occupied by a goldfinch of his property, a proved singer which would be our decoy, and on the other empty side, we were going to introduce — temporarily — our capture.

He also brought a metal can with the birdlime, and completed his equipment with a plastic bag, in which he had a plastic bottle of water, and a sandwich, since we expected to spend many hours in the forest.

As we had agreed, I also carried a plastic bag with a bottle of water, a sandwich, which my aunt had also prepared the previous night for me, and an apple.

According to “The Sullen”, we’d cut some little sticks in the forest, which we’d spread with birdlime afterward.

The hunt of birds with birdlime consists of placing thin sticks impregnated with birdlime, a sticky latex substance, on a tree’s branch isolated from other branches, so birds would be attracted by the chirping of our decoy (whose cage we’d place hidden in the proximities), would perch in “our” branch and then their legs would be trapped by the viscose substance, or they’d be unable to fly because their wings were smeared with the sticky compound, then the bird would fall to the ground where we’d rapidly catch it.

Forbidden by law in many countries, this type of hunt is nevertheless very popular around the globe and is carried on, even with bird’s chirping recordings by the furtive hunters.

Once in the forest, we spent some time looking for and cutting little branches from the trees, to later prepare the sticks and smear them with birdlime.

We had arrived at the forest with ease, as we only had to walk some 20 minutes to get into one of the several forests surrounding the town of Sama.

There were plenty of chestnut trees in there, so being late autumn, chestnuts season, we gathered from the ground below one of the trees some of the many available greenish shells or husks (capsules of 4 to 6 inches of length), covered with spiny stuff, and extracted the chestnuts from their interior, eating them thereafter.

After taking away the chestnut’s exterior cover, brown and thick, the white nut is covered by a beige membrane difficult to take off, but eating the chestnut raw, without taking it off, would leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, as such membrane cover is very bitter.

Chestnuts are also consumed cooked — roasted or boiled — ; and in both cases, it is necessary to perform a little cut to the chestnut otherwise, the strong brown exterior cover won’t let the air from the interior escape out and due to the applied heat, the air will expand causing the chestnuts’ explosion.

At the autumn-winter time in Spain and other European countries, it is frequent to find street-sellers of roasted chestnuts.

Well into the ’70s, the street-sellers in Asturias utilized coal to feed the portable grills in which they roasted their product.

Later on, they began to utilize gas, kerosene, and other liquid fuels. As a boy, I ate boiled chestnuts, while living at my aunt’s home (also with the precaution of the little cut to let the air escape).

In a bowl with milk, boiled chestnuts constitute a tasty, economical, and nutritious food item, which also provides fullness.

In many countries worldwide, the chestnut is considered “the food of the poor”; in the past, its harvest often saved the population of many places from perishing from famine, especially at times of low production of cereals.

When cooked, chestnuts are easier to peel off due to the effect of the heat, as both the thick exterior cover and the bitter interior membrane covering the nut, come off very easily.

After we ate some raw chestnuts, ”The Sullen” took a wooden spoon out of his pocket and began to smear the sticks with birdlime, the viscose substance he’d brought in the can.

He smeared about 12 sticks, placing them afterward on the chosen tree’s branch.

Some of the sticks were placed almost vertically, forming an “X” over the tree’s branch, supported by the leaves; so when the birds tried to get free from the grip on their legs, they frantically moved to try to fly, only to smear their wings with the sticky substance, losing their flying capability and falling to the ground, becoming easy prey for us.

Once the sticks smeared with birdlime were placed on the selected branch, we proceeded to uncover the goldfinch decoy we had brought with us, which immediately began to chirp, and we hid the cage afterward.

The chirps of the decoy sounded loudly in the silence of the forest. There was nothing else to do, but to wait and hide, which we did some 150 feet away.

There are several “recipes” to prepare birdlime. The simplest one I found on the Internet, consists of cutting a latex glove in small chunks and placing them inside a can, and then apply heat to it, constantly stirring the mix with a stick.

When the rubber begins to melt, take the can off the fire, cool off the mixture, and mash it with some oil until you get the desired texture.

A more traditional “recipe” involves the mistletoe plant, which is supposed to acquire a viscose, gummy and sticky texture when heat is applied to it.

Although the use of birdlime to trap birds is prohibited by law in many countries, its use for that purpose spreads worldwide.

For what else could a bag of dry flowers and chunks of the mistletoe plant be offered for sale on E-bay, under the caption “birdlime”?

“The Sullen” expected to trap another goldfinch, which he’d cage — male or female — with the one he already had.

After waiting in silence for several minutes, a couple of sparrows got closer, attracted by the continuous chirping of our decoy.

But instead of perching in “our” branch, the birds selected to perch in a branch of a nearby tree, leaving after a while.

After waiting again for some time, another sparrow perched in “our” branch and almost immediately fell to the ground unable to fly.

“The Sullen” picked the bird up from the ground and carefully cleaned its left-wing with water, as it was smeared with birdlime, so, carefully rubbing his wet fingers over its wing, he took off the substance from it.

The sparrow, once its wing was dry, could fly again and take off rapidly.

Even though we spent a lot of time there (it was more than noon), we didn’t catch any goldfinch.

Just two more sparrows and a linnet were captured, and although the linnet is also a singing bird, all the small animals were returned to their natural habitat, for “The Sullen” only wanted a goldfinch, as he’d said.

It was a long journey, and we felt both, tired and hungry. So we opened our respective bags with the sandwiches and got ready to eat them with a lot of appetites.

Another day we’d catch a goldfinch.

To not consider the trip a total waste of time, once we finished eating, we collected from the forest’s ground a lot of chestnuts’ husks full of the nuts, introducing them in the plastic bags, in which we’d brought the sandwiches.

In any case, it was a great and unforgettable experience for me.

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Eugenio Magdalena

Eugenio is a disabled Economist (UCAB, Caracas), cursed a post-graduate Diploma in Marketing (Strathclyde University, Scotland, UK), and an MBA (England, UK).