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Goldfinches Targeted By Organised Crime

The trafficking of western Europe’s prettiest birds is becoming a serious issue. Goldfinches are both beautiful and melodic and so these wild birds are extremely popular with collectors. A single specimen can sell for €150 and so the trapping of these birds has become highly lucrative.

Criminals have added goldfinch trafficking to their other illegal activities. The birds are highly prized in France, Belgium and North Africa. The male goldfinches can be bred with canaries to produce hybrids which win singing competitions. These specimens change hands for huge sums.

Declining Goldfinch Populations

Unfortunately, a combination of hunting and habitat loss has seen the number of breeding goldfinches fall dramatically in France. Hunting persists despite the fact the penalties are now severe. Last year a man was sent to prison for 15 days in France and ordered to pay a fine of €2,800 for trafficking goldfinches. The severity of the sentence surprised most people in the court but the authorities are now determined to address the issue.

The goldfinch, or chardonneret elegant (elegant thistle-eater), used to be regarded as a common bird across in Europe. It is estimated that there are still 1.5 million breeding couples left in France but this represents less than half the population recorded in 2001. It won’t be long before the species is endangered if the trafficking persists.

Goldfinches in Britain

The capture or killing of goldfinches has been illegal throughout the European Union since 1979. Trapping also occurs in parts of Britain but goldfinch numbers in the UK are actually increasing. Let’s hope the traffickers don’t decide that Britain is a better option.

Officers at the French national office for hunting and wildlife (OFNCFS) are working hard to foil the criminals. But they are up against organised networks which are difficult to crack. Many of the offenders are of North African origin which makes the situation politically sensitive.

Hunting Techniques

Hunters use a mixture of new technology and older methods to trap the birds. A smartphone hanging from a tree playing the sound of a goldfinch is often enough to lure in a specimen. The twigs near the phone are smeared with glue so when a goldfinch settles, it becomes stuck.

Up to a dozen birds can be trapped at one time. Many birds become so stuck that they end up being torn apart by the poachers. Females are less valuable and so are often discarded. The goldfinches frequently die after a few days in captivity. It is estimated that 9 goldfinches die for every bird which is successfully sold. Poachers can earn themselves up to €800 in a day. Some of the specimens are sold out of car boots near the bird markets in Paris.

Hunting Ortolans

To make matters worse, trappers who are hunting for other species will kill and discard goldfinches which they capture. The finches become merely collateral damage. Many trappers are targeting ortolans, a species of bunting which is a delicacy in some regions of France.

Unfortunately, glue trapping isn’t actually banned in all areas of France. Politicians from the south have blocked a law which would outlaw the practice. But after years of tolerance, it appears that the French justice system is now more willing to crack down on poachers.


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