Birds & People, a new book by Mark Cocker, examines man's complex relationship with birds. In this extract he highlights the plight of two species whose very existence is under threat and two further stories of recovery that provide hope for the future.
By Mark Cocker
7:00AM BST 22 Jul 2013
The European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) is one of the most beautiful of all Eurasian pigeons, whose emollient purring song is the colour of ripening grain made audible. There even seems to be something in the turtle dove’s aesthetic appeal that hints at the fine quality of its flesh. Across almost its whole Eurasian range, this 4oz bird has been relished as food. There are 4,500-year-old Egyptian wall reliefs of doves being trapped in nets and with the development of new technologies the slaughter has intensified.
The place most notorious for dove hunting is probably Malta. The small Mediterranean island has a sophisticated attachment to bird trapping and hunting, which, for many male Maltese, are a source of recreation, a statement of both national and gender-oriented identities and a way of maintaining long-established cultural traditions. While hunting was once a major source of subsistence protein, rising standards of living have not seen the activity substantially diminish. For the last 25 years there have been between 14,000 and 17,000 registered hunters or trappers (in a total population of about 350,000). Their cumulative bag, scattered indiscriminately across scores of species, most of which are not eaten, was assumed in 1990 to be between 2.6 million and 5.8 million birds. In that year, the annual turtle dove kill was put at 160,000 - 480,000 birds, although this has since declined substantially and this part of the bag at least enjoyed the rationale of the cooking pot.