V is for Vinkensport, surely one of the most foolish – and tedious – sports ever devised. I make no apologies for lifting the following description directly from the Wikipedia (with minor tamperings and omissions):
“Vinkensport (Dutch for “finch sport”) is a competitive animal sport in which male chaffinches are made to compete for the highest number of bird calls in an hour. Also called vinkenzetting (Dutch for “finch sitting”), it is primarily active in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium.
“Vinkensport traces its origins to competitions held by Flemish merchants in 1596, and is considered part of traditional Flemish culture. As of 2007, it is estimated that there were over 13,000 enthusiasts, called vinkeniers (“finchers”), breeding 10,000 birds every year. Animal rights activists have opposed the sport for much of its history.
“In a contest, a row of small cages, each housing a single male finch, is lined up approximately six feet apart along a street. A timekeeper begins and ends the contest with a red flag. Every time a bird sings a correct terminating flourish to their call—most often transcribed as susk-e-wiet—a tally mark in chalk is made on a long wooden stick. The bird singing its song the most times during one hour wins the contest.
“The earliest known records of vinkeniers are from 1596. By the late nineteenth century, vinkenzetting’s popularity had diminished significantly, but it saw a resurgence after the First World War.
“Vinkeniers use a variety of methods to increase the number of calls in their birds. Techniques to develop singing aptitude include selective breeding programs, high-protein diets, and stimulating them with music and recordings of bird song. As wild finches generally begin singing during the spring mating season, keepers may also use artificial lights placed in aviaries to encourage increased song.
“Some vinkeniers claim that finches from the different regions of Belgium sing in different dialects, with birds from Flanders singing “in Dutch” and those from Wallonia singing undesirably “in French”. While minute regional differences in song have been observed in the chaffinch (though not within Belgium), the differences have only been reliably distinguishable by the use of sonograms. Taxonomically, there are no officially-recognized subspecies of chaffinch within Belgium.
“As with other sports, vinkensport has had its cheating scandals, as well as accusations of artificial enhancement. One finch sang a record 1,278 susk-e-weits in one hour, and the owner was later accused of doping the bird with testosterone. After one contestant sang the exact same number of calls in two rounds, the box was opened and a mini CD player was discovered within.”
There is further material in the original article about various cruelties practised by vinkeniers, which you may go and read if you wish. I have not included it here because I know deep in my heart that there is not a single Hooting Yard reader who would ever countenance cruelty to our avian pals, and I do not wish to nauseate you.
If you are thinking of taking up competitive Vinkensport, might I suggest that you may need to be incarcerated in a mercy home for those plagued by criminal insanity directed towards birds?