National Geographic News
Thrush nightingales are trapped on gum-covered lime sticks.

National Geographic magazine has received hundreds of letters from readers who want to help prevent the killing of songbirds, like these thrush nightingales trapped on gum-covered lime sticks.

Photograph by David Guttenfelder, AP/National Geographic

Rachel Hartigan Shea

National Geographic

Published July 31, 2013

In the July issue of National Geographic magazine, novelist Jonathan Franzen and photojournalist David Guttenfelder documented the slaughter of songbirds.

"Every year, from one end of [the Mediterranean] to the other," wrote Franzen, "hundreds of millions of songbirds and larger migrants are killed for food, profit, sport, and general amusement." Covering this mass killing of birds was like covering a war, according to Guttenfelder.

Readers responded to Franzen's text and Guttenfelder's photographs with outrage. The magazine has received hundreds of letters since the story was published, many from readers who want to know what they can do to help stop the slaughter.

Franzen, a passionate advocate for birds, suggests supporting several groups that are working to protect songbirds in the Mediterranean:


Illegal hunting and trapping is rampant in Italy, Cyprus, and Malta. BirdLife's affiliates in those countries--BirdLife Cyprus, BirdLife Malta, and LIPU in Italy—effectively combat poaching through the legal system and public education.

Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS)

CABS rescues birds and destroys traps in aggressive anti-poaching operations in Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, and France. (See Guttenfelder's photographs of CABS volunteers saving birds.)


Based in Germany, EuroNatur works to protect birds along the Adriatic Flyway, a migratory route followed by millions of birds across the Balkans and southern Italy twice a year. EuroNatur trains local bird-watchers to monitor bird populations and is developing no-hunting areas.

Nature Conservation Egypt

A relatively young group, Nature Conservation Egypt aims to increase protection and appreciation of the country's natural heritage, including the birds that migrate across its borders.

WWF Italy

WWF Italy supports volunteer forest rangers who pursue and arrest poachers, monitor illegal hunting and trapping sites, and seize illegal traps and devices that lure birds by playing recorded birdsong.

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Sandra Grosse
Sandra Grosse

Yesterday I read a new study that more and more songbirds are disappearing. Hopefully this can be stopped if people pay more attention and help to rescue them.

Sharon Harwood
Sharon Harwood

Horrible acts by humans.  Birds are disappearing fast enough because of loss

of habitat and food now a reason that should not be happening.

Ella Meissler
Ella Meissler

I am not an animal rights activist, nor do I have any intention of becoming one. However this article made me sick to my stomach seeing the hunting of these helpless little birds for sport. Thank you for drawing attention to this problem.

Carolyn LeBlanc
Carolyn LeBlanc

Thank you for reporting on this. We donated money to CABS, and I hope other people will too,  based on what we learned from this horrific story. I hate to know that some of the birds in our yard (including our beautiful orioles) may face other humans who who would sensely torture and slaughter them like this. Thank you for continuing to educate us, and for making people care.

Richard Blaine
Richard Blaine

I felt nauseated upon reading this article--yet grateful that it was so graphic. What is described is symptomatic of problems worldwide that place the lives of humans and animals typically kept as pets above those of wild animals.  In terms of the comment regarding killing of birds in the U.S., I concur that it is objectionable.  It is, however, not comparable to what was described by Mr. Franzen in that the killing of so-called nuisance birds in the United States is not indiscriminate.  A greater problem in the United States is the protection of feral cats, which have a tremendous and indiscriminate impact on native bird populations. Because cats are kept as pets, their lives are placed above those of the native species upon which they prey. I say this as a former cat owner who appreciates the unique role cats have played in the lives of people.  I strongly endorse the tactics of CABS--fight fire with fire.  Another approach is to make the preservation of these remarkable denizens of the air economically beneficial to those who now prey on them. I experienced an example of this firsthand in Brazil in July 2000 when I visited a small eco-village that had been set up through the collaboration of macaw biologist Charles Munn and a former native macaw poacher.  The poacher was now able to feed his family by providing simple cabins and viewing stations where visitors from abroad could see various species---particularly endangered hyacinth macaws.  I'm not sure precisely how this might be applied in the circumstances described by Mr. Franzen, but such an approach might be one effective tool in the fight against this horrific and senseless slaughter.  Ultimately, stopping the human decimation of songbirds (and other wild creatures) requires education, a raising of consciousness,  sustainable economic development, and intellectual honesty. It is emotionally easier to turn away than to confront and attempt to overcome such practices.

Dmitri Novikov
Dmitri Novikov

Can we also stop mass killing of birds and other animals taking large proportions in the USA since 1970s? The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, 16 U.S.C. §§ 703712 is overruled by regional ordinances once the birds are considered a “nuisance” by local authorities resulting in mass killing of large flocks of birds, including those overwintering in rural areas, using chemical poisons, not uncommonly by means of areal spraying from aircraft.

Wendy Shreve
Wendy Shreve

The Euro community must unite to stop this slaughter, but that won't happen until the economic climate improves. Innocent people, animals and so on are often the victims of anger about the economy.

Bellz Webster
Bellz Webster

How very sad. Society is at its lowest in just about everything in life.


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