Ambelopoulia is a controversial dish of grilled, pickled or boiled songbirds which is a traditional dish enjoyed by native Cypriots and served in some Cypriot restaurants. It is illegal in Cyprus as it involves trapping wild birds such as Blackcaps and European Robins. Trapping kills birds indiscriminately, thus internationally protected species of migratory birds are killed as well. Enforcement of the ban has been lax, so many restaurants serve the dish without consequence. As a result almost 2,418,000 birds across the whole of Cyprus are estimated to have been killed during 2010. According to a Birdlife Cyprus report to be released in early 2014, over 1.5 million migrating songbirds are killed annually, and the number is increasing each year.
The birds are trapped in either of two ways. Black, fine-mesh nylon fishing nets, which are difficult to see, are strung between trees. Electronic bird calls lure the birds to entangle their wings and legs. Others are trapped using glue sticks made from the berries of a local tree or birdlime. The glue sticks are placed on the branches of trees, and any birds that perch on them are stuck until the trapper returns to kill them (usually with a tooth pick to the throat). Often the legs of the birds are so stuck to the glue sticks that they need to be pulled off.
The trappers defend their activity by citing the practice as traditional Cypriot food gathering and claiming that this has been an important source of protein for the natives for many thousands of years, even though the practice has been illegal since 1974. BirdLife Cyprus has identified restaurants as the main culprits as they provide the financial incentives. The birds reportedly sell for five euros each. Since the entrails of the birds are not removed, as it is not cost effective to do so, the consumer is encouraged to swallow the bird whole.
The enthusiasm Cypriots and many other visitors to the island have for this delicacy despite its illegality has resulted in the development of a very profitable industry. Poaching for ambelopoulia has been on the rise in recent years, involving by 2011 a "mafia-like operation" that include poachers, dealers, exporters, and restaurant operators that participate in the illegal business estimated to be worth about 5 million Euro. Unsuspecting diners may be served much cheaper farmed birds such as immature quails by some restaurants.
- BirdLifeCyprus (August 5, 2010). "Frontline News on Illegal Bird Trapping in Cyprus - Spring 2010". Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- Nathan Morley (June 11, 2011). "Poachers ‘mafia-like’ operation". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved July 7, 2011.