S.O.A.B. the Archives

“The calls of song-birds are more difficult than those of fowl because as we’ve said, there are no whistles. The trapper learns to call from spending his early years with the birds and becomes used to deciphering the bird’s call – hearing it day in, day out. You try to call and receive a response from the bird, constantly honing and improving the call until finally realising that you’ve learnt how a greenfinch calls, how an serin calls, and you keep learning with time.

The amount of time is not short – it’s long, because we’ve been brought up as trappers from the start. As I’m saying, you listen to this and that and figure out how to hone your whistle, slowly, as you age, ending up almost speaking the birds’ language. You don’t know what they’re saying, but you’re calling with them”

Michael Grima, Dingli, MALTA. 02-2018.

‘Song of a Bird. the Archives’ is an online repository on the subject of calls and songs of visiting migratory birds on the island of Malta and bird-trappers; I started this because of my awe in the ability of this community in reproducing the song of these birds.

This is a space where I am attempting to collect and preserve the knowledge (mostly passed orally through generations) of the community of bird-trappers. Here, I bring together found images and texts from different sources on the topic. I am sharing fragments from encounters and the conversations I have with my father, a bird-trapper since childhood, and his peers. 

The European Court of Justice declared that by adopting a derogation regime allowing the live-capturing of seven species of wild finches (għasafar ta’ l-għana), Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under the European Wild Birds Directive. Since then, the trapping (live-capturing) of the chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, hawfinch, serin and siskin is banned.

My father possesses knowledge about the trapping and hunting the quail, the turtle dove and the wild rabbit, the cultivating of props, the pruning of fruit trees and various fishing techniques which he acquired at a very young age in mostly rural Malta (1950s). Like him there are around 4000 who possess and share this knowledge which is on the verge of extinction.

Such old-time practises; emotional and personal, of a specific temperament in relating to life and in a way to nature; of idleness and stillness. An activity with no capital value, it has never been documented or protected but rather controversially and badly represented.

Here, I am trying to conserve the knowledge, the language, the technology, the virtuosity and the stories which my father and his peers urge me to preserve.

If you are able to reproduce the bird-songs or wish to contribute in any way, please contact me on jimmy@rubber-bodies.com.

Jimmy Grima