Birdmen tells of the passion of men for breeding birds and their singing competitions, this passion has a long tradition throughout Spain.
These groups of men meet on weekends from January to July in order to participate in competitions organized by individual clubs around Catalonia. There are around 500 clubs with nearly 10,000 members throughout Spain.
These recreational activities are nearly exclusively male and have their roots mainly in the rural areas of southern Spain. As a result, in the biggest cities like Barcelona, bird associations and clubs are primarily located in the outskirts, where many people moved to from the more rural areas to be closer to the city.
Many of the “birdmen” in Spain learned the techniques for breeding and training their birds from their fathers.
They seem to truly love their birds. They love taking care of them and relish their singing. The birds also link them to their roots and family. For many of these birdmen, these gatherings introduced them to a community of people with shared interests and values, it's a place where meet people, have a chat, a friendly argument, a beer, or just spend time sharing a passion with some else, though there are, of course, participants who are driven solely by the thought of winning. As there are no cash prizes, they compete only for the personal “glory”.
During the so-called “speed” competitions that I documented in my project, the birds are divided by species, numbered, and lined up on a table. As soon as the clock starts running (timing varies for each round), any bird that sings is removed from the table by the umpire. Those birds move on to the next round. This continues until the winners are decided.
These groups of men also share interesting “rituals”: the way they cover the cages, the words they use to talk about this passion, the routines that they have during the training and the competition, their nicknames…
During sunny days, it isn't unusual to see men out and about in the city with their bird cages. They are usually looking for a sunny spot to train their songbirds. Sometimes the birdmen meet up in small groups in parks or squares to exchange opinions and give each other advice.
Despite what you might think, this passion is shared by both young and old alike. Some of them work, but many are retired. Likewise, a few of them are very competitive, while others consider it a pleasurable way to pass the time together.