The popular saying goes that “Every summer the bird of Sant Martí brings”. With the arrival of the first cold, they arrive in our country, a multitude of small birds that will stay during the winter between us.
Basically, these are finch birds, so popular and known for their song and color, such as goldfinches, passerines, fireflies, greenfinches, finches and carnations.
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 food necessary to survive during the winter.
The conservation status of these birds in Europe is certain, but in Catalonia there is a sharp deterioration of the population in all species, which are now officially in a vulnerable and endangered state, despite being protected by the General Animal Protection Act since 2008, and its possession, hunting and capture is strictly prohibited.
There are probably several causes for this decline in the finch population. Changes in natural habitats due to declining wasteland and scrubland. The progressive and cumulative poisoning of the field with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Extensive and intensive cultivation of large agricultural areas that leave little room for margins and trees. All this leads to the elimination of wild grasses, nesting areas and the drastic reduction of our bird populations.
Another probable and controversial cause of the declining population of finches has been their mass hunting with nets and traps, or the popular hunting of twigs, with mistletoe and bramble, which is as it was done, until its ban in our country.
The most prized birds by birders were the goldfinches and the passerines. These are birds of beautiful, melodic song, beautiful plumage, and easily survive in captivity. Its double beauty has led humans for centuries to cage them to become jailers of their freedom.
Of all of them, the chain is the wildest and most restless, but its singing is one of the most pleasant and appreciated. The catwalk is calmer, with a varied and melodious song similar to that of the canary. The gleam with a sometimes monotonous singing but sometimes long and varied, was also valued for its sociability and often coexisted in the house with the door of the cage open. The greener, more corpulent and large, was also quite prized.
The hunting of the twig followed a ritual and preambles, which had to be followed step by step. In the days before the hunt, the brambles had to be prepared (two elm twigs crossed and tied in the shape of a blade, shorter above and below), and new ones had to be made. It was necessary to go and supply mistletoe (vegetable paste) to the lime tree, and to go and saw the oak branch and the piece where to plant and stop the tree, as well as to establish the most suitable observation point for the the next day.
“It was a dark night, when we were climbing the coast of the Carme suburb on the Camino de l’Ofegat, loaded with the cages of the well-covered coves, and us well-sheltered, with breakfast and a boot in our bag, and mistletoe and brambles. in the bag. We were on our way to the piece, where we had planted the bouquet the day before, to have everything ready at dawn.
Before the day began to dawn, it was time to place the clumps under the tree, soak the mistletoe bushes with your icy fingers and springs, place them on the bouquet, and go to the hiding place to wait for it. ‘burst of the new day.
Little by little, from the deepest silence of the night, the dawn began to awaken the nature in moments always unique and magical. From the cages the cries began to whisper, and early on a catwalk, some starlings, some greenfinch, or a flock of goldfinches responded, from the nearest margins, attracted by the singing of the cries, which exerted all their strength to call them and make them come to where they were caged.
Sooner or later a flock of birds made their way to the bouquet and when they perched on the bushes, they fell to the ground trapped by the mistletoe’s stick. It was time to get out of hiding and run to the bouquet to pick up the birds from the ground, take them out of the mistletoe, clean them and see if they were male or female. The males went to the cage and the females were released.”
Remain the witness as a memory of the past. Today, one can enjoy observing the beauty and song of birds without having to hunt or cage them. Its photographic capture is an activity that is expanding, that 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.