© Mist-Netting –One Full Circle

on 7th April 2013

“Mist-netting was first invented by the Japanese in the 16th Century – their purpose was mainly to catch birds for food.

“The West eventually caught on this style of catching birds in the 1920’s – but for a different reason. Bat biologists and ornithologists began to use this method for the sole purpose to supplement visual and auditory observations in their scientific field studies. (Please refer websites on ‘Mist-netting’ for more details.)

“In the hands of highly skilled personals who are well trained to set up mist-nets and to handle entangled birds in the scientific field, this method of collecting birds have shown positive results. Its mortality rate and statistics papered out in recent studies did show enough evidence to suggest or tried to convince die-hard bird conservationists that mist-netting isn’t that bad and cruel after all in comparison.

“Some countries have legislation laws prohibiting the use of mist-netting methods by the lay men. Such usage requires specific permits from Wildlife Protection Departments and Malaysia is listed as one of them.

“Effective enforcement however, is another matter.

“How have this technique got out of hand? Today, we still find mist-nets easily available and commonly seen strewn alongside bunds in paddy fields.

“Let’s visit a paddy field on mainland Penang, Malaysia where acres of paddy fields are also slowly losing its grip to development (left).

“When I first began birding, I was made to believe mist-nets were set up by paddy field owners during the pre-harvesting season, to reduce the number of seed-eaters such as weaver birds, warblers etc. that ate their investment crops away.

“As field birding experience grew and saw bird population’s plummeted, I suspected that apart from habitat loss, while some seed eaters were left to die hanging on those mist-nets, some entered the pet trade; selective birds would also be on the cooking pot’s list.

“During one of my birding visits in November 2012, I found a live waterbird – a Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) caught in one of the mist-nets and was struggling to get free. (above).

“The discarded paddy field was waterlogged and overgrown with tall reeds and unapproachable to attempt a rescue. It would also be unwise of me, as a visiting guest, to be seen as interfering villagers’ life style whose interests and objectives differed mine.

“It wasn’t one of the nice days to finish a birding day’s visit. However, I returned about a month later. To my surprise, the skeletal remains of the same bird was still left entangled on the mist-net, now seen more clearly in contrast with the fresh paddy/grass that sprung when December rains finally came (left).

“Looks like Yellow Bittern don’t appeal to Malaysian villagers versus the popular Indonesian crispy ‘Goreng Wak-Wak’ (fried White-Breasted Waterhen in Sulawesi.

“I can also confirm that Yellow Bittern is about the most commonly seen bittern species left and found in paddy fields and areas I frequent in mainland Penang, Malaysia.

“Strangely, why were mist-nets still left, strung up alongside bunds of fallowed paddy fields in mid-December when harvesting was well completed prior to the Nov-December rains?

“Do join me in my next article to unravel the mystery…”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
1st April 2013
Copyright Article and All Images: Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Dear Daisy,

    Most fish-eating birds are generally unpalatable, with rather pungent flesh. So they are not generally sought after as human food items.

    How do I know? I must confess that as a senior citizen, I have lived through times when it was not considered politically incorrect to serve birds on the menu. They still do so in Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of Asia. Also in France and Spain.

    When I first started taking an interest in wildlife in Singapore during the 1950s, quail, waterhens, plovers and curlews were relatively plentiful. There were many farming areas in Singapore, and the farmers trapped birds for food.

    Other birds that were eaten were Yellow-vented Bulbuls and sparrows. And of course all kinds of pigeons and doves.

    Insectivorous birds (flycatchers, robins, etc) scavengers (mynahs and crows) and fish-eating birds (egrets, herons, gulls) were considered not desirable as items of food.

    Lee Chiu San

  2. Chiu San,

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience that no books can read about.


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