This is a story that I find almost unbelievable but I swear that it is true and if there was a list of pointless things that mankind has thought up to amuse itself then this would be close to the top of the list.
The chaffinch is a popular pet bird in many countries because of its beautiful song. In the Flanders region of Belgium, the four hundred year old sport of vinkenzetting (finch-sitting) is a competition that pits male chaffinches against one another in a contest for the most bird calls in an hour. The sport was first recorded in 1596 and currently it is estimated that there are over thirteen thousand vinkeniers breeding ten thousand birds every year.
This is a sport even more pointless than fishing and this is how the contest works – a row of cages, each housing a single male finch, are lined up approximately two metres apart along a street, the close proximity is important because it increases the number of calls, as the birds sing to attract a mate and to establish its territory, and every time the bird sings this is recorded as a score by making a chalk mark on a pole. A timekeeper begins and ends the contest with a red flag and the bird singing its song the most times in one hour wins the contest.
According to the organisers of the sport finches from the different regions of Belgium sing in different dialects. Flemish finchers insist that only Flemish chaffinches chirp the susk-e-wiet and that Wallonian finches, found a few miles away, sing in a dialect closer to French. If a bird fails to sing in the Flemish style then its tweets may not be counted. Any bird singing in French is immediately disqualified with no right of appeal. I imagine the French are not happy about that knowing how precious they are about their language.
In my opinion this must surely be a something that should be stopped immediately because why would anyone want to put a wild bird as beautiful as this into a wooden box simply for their own amusement?
As with other sports, vinkenzetting has had its cheating scandals and in one competition a champion finch sang 1,278 correct songs (that’s one every three seconds or so) but the owner was later accused of doping the bird with testosterone. At another contest after one finch sang the exact same number of calls in two rounds the box was opened and a mini CD player was discovered inside. I hope the owners were appropriately punished.
This man looks like the Diego Maradonna of vinkenzetting…