Norway was stunned this week by the violent kidnapping of a baby oystercatcher, a seabird known locally as a tjeld. According to eyewitnesses, the bird was snatched near its family’s nest in Tromsø by a long-haired man who fled in a car with foreign license plates.
Suspecting environmental crime, Tromsø police said they were looking for both the bird and its abductor. The victim was described as a typical member of the Eurasian oystercatcher species with black feathers over its back, a white-feathered belly, a long orange beak and thin orange legs.
The tjeld (Haematopus ostralegus) is a wader, often seen running fast along beaches looking for food. It’s popular for its distinct appearance, with round eyes giving it a slightly perplexed look.
The kidnapper, ignoring noisy protests from the rest of the bird family and surprised human witnesses, reportedly stuffed the bird into a paper bag of the kind used for packaging bread. The bird was said to have fought back, flapping its wings in vain. The oystercatcher snatcher subsequently escaped in a foreign-registered car.
“Clearly, violence was involved,” police operation leader Rune Nilsen said.
The news was broken by local website itromso.no (external link, in Norwegian) on Thursday and reported nationwide, with a humorous touch. The core of the matter is no joke, though. Such poaching and cross-border trafficking in birds is a common problem in Norway, not least at this time of year when tourists themselves flock to Norway in large numbers and beach areas teem with birds and their vulnerable offspring.
The oystercatcher is much less common than, for example, seagulls, but is not endangered, bird expert Ingar Båtvik told newspaper VG. “A tjeld has no significant value on the international market,” Båtvik said.
Taking a bird across national boundaries nonetheless violates the Cites convention, which protects animals and plants. Båtvik pointed out that the total number of birds being caught and taken away for stuffing or other purposes is a bigger concern than the species involved.