Says the popular saying that “The veranillo de San Martín of all the birds makes come”. With the arrival of the first cold, arrive to our country, a multitude of small birds that remain during the winter between us.

Estol de caderneres (Carduelis carduelis).
Estol de caderneres (Carduelis carduelis).

Basically it is about the finches, so popular and known for their song and color, such as goldfinches, linnets, grubs, greenfinches, finches or carafes.

Estol de passerells (Linaria cannabina). Mascle a baix i femelles a dalt.
Estol de passerells (Linaria cannabina). Male down and females up.

These birds, usually spend the summer in more northern latitudes and in the middle of autumn they go down to winter in our lands, where they have the necessary food to survive during the winter.

El lluer (Spinus spinus), anomenat lluonet a les illes, i gavatxet, llogueret, joqueret, lluidet, niueret, llauiset, nic, niquet, nyic, nyiquet, tiro, tiroret, franceset, mentiró, mentironet, lliberal) al País Valencià
El lluer (Spinus spinus), llamado lluonet en las islas, y gavatxet, llogueret, joqueret, lluidet, niueret, llauiset, nic, niquet, nyic, nyiquet, tiro, tiroret, franceset, mentiró, mentironet, lliberal en Valencia

The conservation status of these birds in Europe is safe, but in Catalonia there is a strong deterioration of the population in all species, which are already officially in a vulnerable and threatening state, despite being protected by the Law of Protection of the Animals of the Generalitat since 2008, and its possession, hunting and capture is strictly prohibited.

Probably there are several causes of this fall in the population of the finches. Changes in natural habitats for the decrease of vacant spaces and bushes. The progressive and cumulative poisoning of the field with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Extensive and intensive cultivation of large agricultural areas that do not leave even a meager space for margins and trees. All this causes the elimination of wild grasses, of nesting spaces and the drastic reduction of the populations of our birds.

Another probable and controversial cause, of the shrinking population of those of finches, has been its massive hunting with nets and traps, or the popular hunting on the twig, with mistletoe and esbarzella, which is as it was done, until its prohibition In our country.

The birds most prized by the birds were the goldfinches and the linnets. These are birds of a beautiful and melodic song, of a beautiful plumage and survive easily in captivity. Its double beauty has led humans for centuries to cage them to become jailers of their freedom.

Parant el ram i envescant les esbarzelles. Anys 1930.
Stopping the bouquet and spotting the bushes. 1930s.

Of all of them, the cadeneros is the most wild and nervous, but his singing is one of the most pleasant and appreciated. The linnet is of a calmer character, with a varied and melodious song similar to that of the canary. The scythe with a song sometimes monotonous but sometimes long and varied, was also valued for its sociability and often lived in the house with the door of the cage open. The verderón, more corpulento and great, also was quite appreciated.

The hunting of the twig followed a ritual and some preambles, which had to be respected step by step. The days before the hunt had to prepare the esbarzelles (two twigs of elm crisscrossed and tied in the form of a blade, shorter above than below), and make new ones. It was necessary to go to provide mistletoe (glue of vegetable origin), and go to saw the branch of oak and the piece where to plant and stop the tree, as well as to establish the most appropriate observation point for the next day.

Definició d'esbarzella segons l'Alvover-Moix, o Diccionari català-balear-valencià.
Definition of esbarzella according to Alvover-Moix, or Catalan-Balearic-Valencian dictionary.

“It was night closed, when we were going along the coast of the Carmen suburb on the way to El Ahogado, loaded with the cages of the well-covered claims, and we were well wrapped, with breakfast and boot in the bag, and the mistletoe and esbarzelles sack We were going to the piece, where the day before we had planted the bouquet, to have everything ready at dawn.

Before the day began to dawn, it was time to place the claims under the tree, wet with the icy fingers and springs the mistletoe of the steers, stop them on the bouquet, and go to the hiding place to wait for the burst of the new day .

Little by little, from the deepest silence of the night, the dawn began to awaken the nature us always unique and magical moments. From the cages, the claims began to hiss, and very early a linnet, some luganos, some verderón or a flock of goldfinches responded, from the nearest margins, attracted by the song of the reclamations, that use all their forces to call them and make them come to where they were caged.

Sooner or later a flock of birds would lean towards the bouquet and when they got on top of the stems, they would fall to the ground trapped by the mistletoe. It was time to leave the hiding place and run to the field to collect the birds from the ground, take them off the mistletoe, clean them and check if they were male or female. The males went to the cage and the females were released. ”

Keep this testimony as a memory of the past. Today, you can enjoy watching the beauty and singing of the birds without having to hunt them or cage them. His photographic capture is an activity that is expanding, which does not cause damage to the environment, and allows us to disseminate and value our natural heritage.

Jaume Ramon Solé.

Published in Nova Tàrrega. November 2015.

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