"Bird Walkers":

by Ayla Hibri

Algerians are bird-crazy. Going to any public park, or walking around the Casbah, you are likely to find young men in tracksuits and cool sneakers drinking coffee with a birdcage in their hands, taking their pet birds for a walk. 

Millions of Algerian men, young and old, are obsessed with owning and caring for small songbirds, a variety of goldfinch called “makneen” in local dialect. The better the singing ability of the bird the more prized it is, and good singers can fetch upwards of $600 euros on the local market. 

People record the songs of the most famous birds and play them back on their own for them to learn. Bird songs recorded on mobile phones go viral! Algerians have even developed their own onomatopoeic jargon to describe certain melodies like VAW-VAW and SFIRA and Ti-Wa-Wa-Ti.

The men go to extreme lengths to source nutritional supplements and preferred food for their birds, which can live upwards of 25 years. 

Unfortunately, the bird obsession has led to a vast decline in the wild bird population Algeria and neighboring Morocco where they are trapped and smuggled across the border. The government has banned the trade and trapping of birds but that has done little to stop the flow. I visited a market where thousands of men were showing off the birds to potential buyers.