updated 12/20/2007 5:54:16 PM ET 2007-12-20T22:54:16

Illegal trappers on Cyprus killed more than half a million protected birds this fall for sale at local restaurants, conservationists said Thursday.

It was the worst massacre in four years and came despite a European Union ban on the decades-old tradition, said BirdLife Cyprus Executive Director Martin Hellicar.

"Illegal bird trapping in Cyprus is an indiscriminate practice that threatens many protected bird species," Hellicar said. "The picture emerging from 2007 is grim."

Migratory birds cooked over coals are a traditional delicacy and sell for up to $7 each in restaurants. They are trapped with lime-covered sticks and nets.

BirdLife Cyprus said there is "overwhelming evidence" that more birds are being served in restaurants despite a government ban.

Hellicar said the problem continues because poachers' profits are huge, the fines are too small and not pressure is put on restaurants.

A senior Council of Europe biodiversity official was even offered the delicacy on a recent visit to Cyprus, BirdLife Cyprus said.

Cyprus, in the Eastern Mediterranean, has come under strong pressure from the EU — which it joined in 2004 — to end the practice.

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