Sunday, March 21, 2010

Traditional pigeon hunting with nets - palombière

Pigeons in the air

I had heard about the pigeons and the way to hunt them with nets before, because it is a real old tradition in Landes. The only problem is that as a foreigner AND a woman, I had a pretty scarce chance to ever see one for real, even less to participate in a real hunting situation. Jean let me do both...

I had also heard about Jean before I came to meet him in the small village Escalans in Landes. A man full of passion and enthusiasm. A born teller of stories and with a life made of stories. You can say that I had pretty high expectations before I came - they were fulfilled, with a margin!

Pigeon hunting has been done in the Southwest of France since forever. The pigeons come from among other countries Sweden during October and November and make a stop here to feed before making the last leg of their trip and reach the final destination in Africa. Jean, with his experience, sees several groups of pigeons in the sky that I, in spite of being given the direction, have trouble finding at all.  Jean laughs and says it's something you start training as a kid. At first I went with my dad, he says, but at thirteen I made my own palombiére with a friend. The whole idea is to trick the pigeons into landing at the place of the nets and trap them.

Jean is against rifles, he says the pigeons learn to avoid places where they are scared by rifle shots. In the French Pays Basque they use a different system. They make the pigeons believe an eagle is close, to make them dive into nets that are set up between two cliff tops.

Palombière, where you hide waiting for the pigeons

Jean had a real big palombière that he built after the giant storm of 1999 had destroyed the old one. Several hundred metres of covered alleys, a real kitchen with a barbecue and a chimney. The hunt is ongoing for 1,5 months, so some basic comfort is important. And food, do I have to remind you it is important! Now Jean has built a third one, since the big storm of January 1999 destroyed his palombière again.

Jean imitates a pigeon and he does it so good I start looking for the real one... he says he can really communicated with the pigeons and I believe him.. or almost. For me, pigeon hunting is something that is done in small groups of secret men and not something you just walk into. Jean explains that he opened his palombière exactly for that reason, because nobody else wanted to do it. People here think it's just a pain with people that ask stupid questions, he says. I understand the point of this, because what I see is a complex tradition with a huge amount of heritage and knowledge that is transmitted. We have this idea of pigeons being stupid, but they are not easy to fool and you need to pay attention to small, small details!

A spy pigeon that alerts when other pigeons arrive
A spy pigeon that will change its behaviour if other pigeons are arriving, thus functioning as an alert.

Weathervane to see where the wind comes from
To see the wind direction - the feathers from the first killed bird of the season are used to make it

Entrance of the palombière
The entrance of the palombière

The palombière kitchen
Inside you find a fully equipped kitchen - of course

The pigeon trap with nets
To the right a small rounded hole, where two pigeons, with their wings tied in a specific way, walk around without being able to escape. The flying pigeons are calmed to see that there are already birds on the ground, so they land. Then the nets, that you see around the borders, are flapped on top of them to trap them.

The bait bird
A bird sitting on a special arrangement....

The bait bird imitates a settling bird
... that can be tipped so the bird imitates the sound of a settling bird, thus inciting other birds to land.

Cutting mushrooms for our lunch
A late lunch. Simple, says Jean. Yeah. Especially if you consider homemade duck paté, mushroom omelette and wild boar chops as everyday food. And tourtière for dessert. Delicious.


  1. I read your blog almost every day and enjoy it very much. My wife and I often travel in France on vacations and love the country. But this year I am disabled, temporarily I hope, and can't travel. Reading your blog and others from France helps me cope with my problems. Keep on blogging!
    Geriatric Francophile

  2. Vraiment tu me donnes tous les jours envie de venir très rapidement (re)découvrir ta région pleines de merveilles. A bientôt....

  3. Hello Francophile! I am very pleased to hear from such a fan! And if I help you daydream a bit talking about my beloved Aquitaine, even more! I hope you soon are back to the real thing! Regards, Eva

  4. Hi Eva,
    Great blog. Hope you don't mind that I've just linked to this blog in one of my posts - see

  5. Hi Eva,
    We saw your blog in "A taste of Garlic" and wondered if you would like to contribute in our new online magazine "TIENS ! Le Sud-Ouest de la France". Here's a link to the English If you're interested and for more information, please contact me. Looking forward to hearing from you Kind regards, Perry Taylor


Hi! Please say hello! It is so nice to see if somebody has read a post!

Related Posts with Thumbnails