Last week, a Brescia court held the first hearing of a local man who kept 788 dead songbirds in his freezer. They included robins, which are sold illegally for 3 to 5 euros to restaurants. They are particularly appreciated for their thin bill, which is, for some, considered edible.
In Italy, hunting any animal is permitted only with a license, and there are penalties for hunting protected species and selling them. For years, the issue has been at the center of a political clash between animal rights advocates often backed by progressive politicians — which have demanded stricter limitations — and hunters’ associations and conservative politicians, who aim to facilitate hunting.
Animal rights activists point out that songbirds are in danger throughout Europe, with 40 once-abundant migratory species disappearing.
“There is a general crisis of biodiversity,” said Annamaria Procacci, a board member of ENPA, Italy’s animal protection league, and a former Green Party senator.
“And then there are people feasting on it.”
Mr. Massardi, the local official who called the protected bramblings delicacies, has proposed removing protections for some songbirds, including those on Friday’s menu. He said he wanted to protect tradition.
He was acting “in the name of the Brescian spit,” he said, a typical dish made of skewered slices of pork, chicken, rabbit and songbirds. The chaffinch and the brambling, he said, give the spit a distinctive tart taste that he has not savored for 10 years.
Mr. Massardi did not condone Friday’s luncheon, saying it was an offense to all the restaurant owners suffering the closures imposed by the government. But he did not see why the government should forbid what was on the table.
“I don’t understand why chicken, yes, and these birds, no,” he said. “Chickens are birds, too.”