Bird Banding and Bird Catching: Another Letter From the Boondocks

Aha. We have another letter dealing with the same subject as our previous post. This second letter was written by a Peace Corps volunteer who was once based in Sagada.

The letter goes into details about the iSagada practice of bird catching or “ikik”. Back to the days when I was based in Sagada, I joined people (mga four or five times lang yata) who were going to Mt. Ampakaw to catch these migratory birds. It is exciting at first but it gets tiring because you have to climb this mountain at night and you have to do it during the cold months of the year. If I’m not mistaken this practice is now officially banned by the local government mainly because of the SARS/bird flu scare a few years back and also for environmental purposes. I’m not sure if the ban is effective.

30 September 1967
Sagada, Philippines

Dear Sir:

Your’ bird, number 45324, showed up in Sagada and haplessly (for it) flew into a net set up for exactly that purpose: catching birds.

Sagada is located approximately 200 miles North of Manila and sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The bird, however, was caught on a mountain peak, a short walk from Sagada (mostly straight up), and perhaps another 1,000 feet in elevation higher than Sagada.

Because of its elevation, Sagada (and the rest of the Mountain Province) has a quasi temperate climate. And the Pine tree dominates its climax community. Quite different from the rest of the Philippines.

From what I can gather, the people of Sagada, as well as the rest of Mountain Province (Igorors), have been going up on the mountain peaks to net birds for as long as anyone can remember. The fellow who I go bird-netting with inherited his net from his grandfather, who wove the net many years ago using the bark of a special tree. In times past, birds caught were an important source of meat to the community; now, however, I believe it is mostly done for sport, although the birds netted are eaten as number 44324 will probably be. (45324
is now alive, but it can not fly due to its collision with the net and the subsequent struggle that ensued, between man and bird. We will attempt to nurse it back to health and get it off the ground again — although it is quite doubtful that we will be successful. If the bird does fly again, we will send it back to Hong Kong; if it doesn’t, we will eat it.)

Perhaps you will find the methods used by the Igorors to net birds interesting. The net, about 10 feet wide, tapering down from about 10 feet at the top to about 3 feet at the bottom, is stretched on and attached to two bamboo poles which are about 14 feet in height. The net is made of twisted bark “string” about 1/2 of an inch apart. This set-up, on the peak of a mountain, is stood up and held in the shape of a “V”, the point to the ground. The net is held by a person, who, his hand placed 4 feet up the poles, either squats or sits, waiting for a bird to fly into the net. To attract the birds, to fly to and hopefully into the net, a Petromax (a pressurized kerosene lamp) is placed on the ground, a few feet to the right and behind the man holding the net.

The net, so it is believed, must be facing West. The environmental conditions must also be correct: netting of birds is only done at night; it must be a cloudy night, with the clouds low enough to sweep over the peaks where the netting is done. It is best if the clouds are blowing from East to West, thus sweeping from behind, over, and away from the direction the net is facing. There are usually birds in the East wind; although there are, so they say, birdless, East wind clouds. Sometimes, but rarely, there are birds found in clouds going in other directions, but there must be clouds present. If there are no clouds, there will be no birds. I went up last night to try my luck; freezing on the mountain top, I waited for clouds from 8pm until 4am (these are the usual times for netting), but during this time no clouds blew by; I caught no birds.

The birds that the people catch must mostly be migratory ones, because they just net during a part of the year: from the middle of September to the last of December. 45324 was caught the 27th of September.

We, here, suppose that you are studying the migration of these birds, but in a way this seems a little illogical (to me, anyway), because who would ever catch these birds in the course of their flight? Of course, you were right in this case, but it seems like Igorors catching these birds to eat would be the exception — most peoples would not bother (the birds are so small!), and if one doesn’t catch them he certainly couldn’t read your address on the band. Or are you studying the total time elapsed that the birds take to get back to Hong Kong after 1/6aving?

We would be very interested in and appreciate any information that you can give us about number 45324 and its kind. And any help we could give you, we will gladly do so.

Peace Corps

RELATED POST: A Letter From the Boondocks; Rana Igorota: Going Going Gone. INFO SOURCE: PHOTO CREDIT: Ecological and Environmental Learning Services.

3 thoughts on “Bird Banding and Bird Catching: Another Letter From the Boondocks”

  1. If that peace corps volunteer have had the luck to catch a few birds during their sortie to Ampakaw for him to have the chance to savor the taste of these birds, he would have said ‘yummy’.:-) And it’s not like you only catch a single bird and then head back home. Some of the locals here were known to have caught half a sack of birds in one trip. Oops…not all the people here approve of the practice of bird-catching. Some of the more environmentally conscious individuals, (count me among them:-D) have tried explaining the migratory patterns of these birds- that when the winter or the cold season in the northern hemisphere begins, these birds head south, where the temperature gets warm. It just so happens that the Philippines is the ‘stopover’ of these birds during their migration to the more southerly countries (Australia, New Zealand, etc.) and we should show a little more kindness to them. I told exactly that to a group of men during a night of ‘irrigation’ in one of our hangouts here and they just laughed. ‘Ayke od waday mangik-ikkan is ikak-an takoy Isagada’ (Nobody does it like we do), they said.

    It’s not that the folks here don’t care or whatever. As that Peace Corps volunteer P.D. observed, the practice has been going on for a long time. It has turned into a tradition which gets observed, year in and year out, by the father, then the son, following the trails of their (maybe, more recent) forefathers. P.D. is also right in saying that bird-catching is now, mostly done for sport. How else would we explain why those professionals and the others, who have the money to buy all the meat they want, endure all the hardships (the long trek to Ampakaw, the cold temperature, the loss of sleep, etc.) that ‘ikik’ entails? It’s the thrill of going up the mountain with friends, sharing in the fun of catching wildlife, and the alcohol- flavored story-telling that ensues the next day, which drives them up to Ampakaw. And if a plate of fried birds accompanies the inebriation, then the discussions get to be livelier.:-) I won’t be a hypocrite to say that I never ate a bird. I did but I stopped. (I prefer the kind which we call ‘siteg’. They’re small and not as tough as the other varieties.)

    This is a kind of a dilemma for locals like me. We understand the concerns about the environment but just do try and dissuade the folks from bird-catching and you’ll be treated like a pariah. It will be you against the entire community… Then bird flu got into the picture. I guess it’s another illustration of nature’s way of self-preservation… And you’re right, Bill. The municipal council of Sagada has passed a resolution banning ikik. Most have followed the ban, but some wisecracks have been heard to say, “If a bird had the capacity to fly from Siberia to Sagada, it couldn’t be suffering from any disease.” They could be right but the local officials aren’t taking any risks. Last year, during the ‘ikik’ season, barangay officials and some volunteers have stayed guard on the way to Ampakaw during nights, just in case. I hope it will continue.

  2. Hi Pagano,
    I like your comment so much that I decided to “steal” it and put it in the main page. Hope you don’t mind. Hehe.

  3. it’s your blog, and every action you do in it is up to your own discernment. you could have deleted if you wanted to.

    as it were, you deemed it worthy for the main page. it’s an honor, bill.:-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *