Emptying the Skies

Billions of songbirds migrate yearly to and fro Europe, Asia and Africa. Hundreds of millions of them die in traps set by poachers because fried or pickled ortolans, blackcaps and larks are classic Mediterranean delicacies. They are also strictly illegal in the EU. Still very few officials make any effort to enforce the laws against trapping.

In Douglas Kass’ documentary, bestselling author and bird enthusiast Jonathan Franzén joins a group of activists of CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter) to destroy cruel bird traps in Cyprus. The island is a central pit stop for migrating birds, which thousands of poachers capture by smearing tree branches with sap glue. Many of the species are endangered, and the rest will soon follow suit if the hunting goes on unabated.

In French cuisine, preparing a captured ortolan entails force-feeding and then drowning the living bird in Armagnac before roasting and eating it whole. The practice is also an initiation rite for young chefs. In Cyprus the dish is called ambelopoulia and considered a hush-hush delicacy.

Both poachers and chefs brazenly defend their traditions and livelihoods. In Cyprus, even the mafia jump on the CABS activists.

Text and translation: Tapio Reinekoski

Language: English, Italian, German, French
Subtitles: English



  • Director: Douglas Kass
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 78 min
  • Age limit: S
  • Format: DCP
  • Cinematography: Michael Tucker, Douglas Kass
  • Editing: Michael Levine
  • Music: Marty Beller, Laurie Anderson
  • Production: Roger Kass / Ringthething Entertainment


  • Kinopalatsi 8: Tuesday 27.1. at 17:00
  • Savoy: Sunday 1.2. at 12:00