Woodpigeons hunting in the heart of the Basque Country, on the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains
Every fall, whenever the wind blows from the north or east, the sky of Etxalar witnesses the passing of thousands of pigeons. More than 600 years ago, a shepherd got into the habit of throwing stones at them. Seeing that they descended, a bishop encouraged him to place nets to catch them. And so was born the “pigeon netting”, a unique form of hunting, unique in Spain.
Throughout its history it has had luxury spectators such as the Emperor Napoleon III or the Kings Alfonso XII and XIII. Know a day, it has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.
With paddles resembling hawks, pennants, turtles and nets, this is how the traditional pigeon hunting with nets is carried out in Etxalar.
The hunter on the lookout tower gives the warning. He has sighted doves. He makes the signal with the pennant. The “paleteros” then throw the paddles to make the pigeon flock descend and direct them towards the nets and… when the pigeons are low, they throw the net. That is why in Etxalar the pigeons are not counted by units, but by dozens.
During the hunting season, guided visits are made to the dovecotes to see “in situ” this ancestral and peculiar way of hunting. This tradition can also be seen on Dovecote Day, an open day in which the people of Etxalar show their most precious tradition.
Treaty of Lizaieta
Every year, at the end of September, the Treaty of Lizaieta is commemorated. The countdown to the hunting season begins.
The Treaty of Lizaieta dates back to 1856, but had three documented milestones in 1959, 1984 and 1990.
It was on September 4, 2011 when the mayors of Etxalar and Sara recovered that Treaty of understanding. Since then, every year, when October approaches, they renew the signature with a party on the hill of Lizaieta. A day of twinning between both localities that allows to preserve this ancestral hunting practice.
Of course the wild pigeon is hunted for its meat. It is one of the best birds to eat both in sauce and grilled over charcoal. It is a reddish meat with a lot of flavor since this bird only feeds on natural products such as acorns or corn.
I invite you to try it if you come to the Basque Country in autumn.