Photograph by David Guttenfelder
Photograph by David Guttenfelder

The Moment: Caged Birds

This story appears in the July 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Caged Birds After 18 years covering conflict in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Iraq, photojournalist David Guttenfelder was unsure if he had the skills for a delicate new assignment: documenting the trapping and eating of songbirds. But he soon found himself on familiar ground, enmeshed in a story with carnage and tension. He had an awakening as well. In Ayia Napa, Cyprus, he met a man who’d illegally caged a dozen wild birds. Guttenfelder thought: “This isn’t how birds are supposed to be.” In this case the authorities came in and freed the birds (above). —Daniel Stone

Behind the Lens

Q: Taking pictures of birds isn’t your usual line of work.

A: After so much time covering war, I remember some of my friends in Syria and Libya said to me, “You’re out there covering birds?” I’ve spent a long time photographing people doing horrible things to each other, but seeing hundreds of birds suffering was a very challenging project. It made me realize there are other types of conflicts that need to be covered.

Q: How did people justify killing them?

A: In Cyprus, when I listened to activists argue with local people, the Cypriots would say that the birds are delicious. One man told me, “Imagine the best thing your mother made for you as a kid, then multiply it by a thousand. That’s how delicious they are.”

Q: Did you eat any of the birds?

A: I did. As I learned from war photography, you sometimes need to hang around with people who do things you don’t agree with to photograph things you want to show. After spending an entire day with a family in Egypt that hunted songbirds, they invited me to eat with them. I probably ate three or four birds. It wasn’t for me.