Discuss as:

Economic crisis spells danger for songbirds as Cypriots turn to illegal trapping

Petros Karadjias / AP

A bird is entangled in a net used by poachers to trap migrating songbirds in the Larnaca district of Cyprus. Small birds, called ambelopoulia in Greek, are considered a delicacy in Cyprus, and poachers supply a lucrative market. 

Petros Karadjias / AP

A man tries to free a bird caught on a branch covered with a sticky substance that poachers in Cyprus use to trap songbirds in his orchard in the Larnaca district.

Petros Karadjias / AP

Served whole, either boiled or pickled, the fatty birds are such an ugly sight on a plate that outsiders find it hard to fathom how there could be any profit to be made from them. For many Cypriots, however, the tangy-sweet taste of the birds is pure bliss.

By Menelaos Hadjicostis, The Associated Press — It's just before first light and the bird-catcher strings nets among the orange, pomegranate, fig and carob trees in his orchard. The sound of chirping emanates from inside a massive carob — a trick sent from speakers to attract tiny songbirds. By mid-morning, the man disentangles about a half-dozen blackcaps, snaps their necks with his teeth and drops them in a bucket.

For centuries, the migratory songbirds have been a prized delicacy among Cypriots. They are also an illegal one, as entry into the European Union forced Cyprus to ban the tradition of catching the creatures, some endangered, in nets or on sticks slathered with a glue-like substance.

Now economic crisis is luring many out-of-work Cypriots back into the centuries-old trade. They risk stiff fines and even jail time by supplying an underground market for the tiny songbirds illicitly served up in the country's tavernas — but they say it's their only way to make ends meet. Read the full story.

Editor's note: Images taken on Nov. 3, 2012 and made available to NBC News today.

Petros Karadjias / AP

A man, who didn't want to be identified because he is breaking the law by poaching, releases a bird that was trapped in a net in his orchard in the Larnaca district.

Related:

The sound of no birds singing: Jonathan Franzen discusses the killing of songbirds in a New Yorker podcast

Killer outdoor cats slay billions of birds, small mammals yearly

Mystery of how homing pigeons find home solved