In Taiwan, bird catchers turn bird watchers

TAIPEI, December 3, 2009 (AFP) – When Yeh You-chin was a boy half a century ago, he ate migratory birds with relish, but now he is at the forefront of efforts to preserve the feathered visitors to his south Taiwan home.

Yeh, the 59-year-old chief of Fangshan township, recently opened an exhibition hall devoted to the brown shrike, which passes through the area every year — and until recently did so at great risk to itself.

“I remember how the air was filled with the strong smell of roasted shrikes,” said Yeh. “Some villagers made more money catching birds than people in the cities.”

Times have changed, and conservation efforts have now moved to the forefront of most people’s minds in this rural part of Taiwan. The exhibition hall is testimony to this development.

“People visiting the exhibition centre can learn about brown shrikes, their relationship with human beings and their plight once they are caught in traps,” Yeh said.

For centuries, people in subtropical southern Taiwan would look forward to autumn and winter, when migratory birds would fly in from northern Asia.

They called them “divine blessings” because of the delicious flavour they added to the simple rustic fare they normally