A person engaged in the capture of birds. (Prov. 6:5; Ps. 124:7) Among the Hebrews, this seems to have been done primarily by means of traps, snares or nets, although other means may well have been used, such as bow and arrow, sling and, perhaps, as in Egypt, by throw sticks.
After the Flood, birds, properly bled, were made available to man as food. (Gen. 9:2-4) Although the Mosaic law later proscribed the eating of certain kinds, a great variety of birds was counted as “clean” for eating. (Deut. 14:11-20) Birds caught in hunting were to have their blood ‘poured out and covered with dust.’ (Lev. 17:13, 14) In addition to use as food (Neh. 5:18; 1 Ki. 4:22, 23), some of the captured birds, specifically male pigeons and turtledoves, could be used in sacrifices (Lev. 1:14), and birdcatchers probably supplied some of the doves sold at the temple in Jerusalem during Jesus’ days on earth. (John 2:14, 16) Some birds of lovely plumage or attractive song were likely sold for caging or as pets.—Compare Job 41:5; 1 Ki. 10:22.
Of the Hebrew terms used to designate traps and snares, two (moh·qeshʹ and pahh) are considered to relate primarily to those used by birdcatchers. Some authorities suggest that moh·qeshʹ (Amos 3:5; “snare,” NW) denotes a snare that was operated by the birdcatcher (or a team of them), while pahh (Job 22:10; Ps. 91:3) describes a trap that was sprung automatically upon the bird’s entry therein. The bird was drawn into the trap by means of bait or lure.—Prov. 7:23.
Although used figuratively in most cases, the abundant references to snares, traps and nets in the Hebrew Scriptures are an indication of considerable activity in birdcatching. The birdcatcher of ancient times had to study the various habits and peculiarities of each kind of bird and employ clever methods of concealment and camouflage in placing his traps. (Compare Job 18:10; Ps. 64:5, 6; 140:5.) Even the common sparrow (Matt. 10:29) has vision that is twice as keen as that of man, while certain birds can discern objects at a distance that would require the use of binoculars by humans. This acute vision, added to the natural cautiousness of birds, points up the truth of the proverb that “it is for nothing that the net is spread before the eyes of anything owning wings.”—Prov. 1:17.
Based on examples found in ancient Egyptian reliefs and also on methods employed in recent times in Egypt and Arabic lands, it appears that one kind of trap had a wooden base with two nets on hoops or half frames attached to a common axis. These were drawn back and set with a trigger. The trap could be triggered by the birdcatcher or was activated by the bird’s touching the bait in the center of the trap, causing the nets to spring up and enclose the victim. (Job 19:6) An Egyptian clap-net used for capturing geese or other waterfowl might be as much as ten feet (3 meters) long and five feet (1.5 meters) wide, requiring four or five assistants to snap it quickly shut by pulling on a rope at the birdcatcher’s signal. The victims were then placed in cages awaiting sale or slaughter.—Compare Jeremiah 5:26, 27.
Nets were also suspended loosely between two poles near the nesting place of a number of birds and at night the birdcatchers frightened the birds by shouts or lanterns, causing them to leave their perch and become enmeshed in the net. Sometimes nets were also thus suspended to catch birds in flight during nocturnal migrations; others were cast as dragnets over bushes where the birds rested.—Hos. 7:11, 12.
Another very common method was the use of a snare consisting of a string noose attached to a supple twig. The twig was bent to the ground and lightly fastened with bait so placed that, when touched by the bird, the twig flew up, jerking the noose around the bird’s neck or legs and lifting it off the ground. In writing to Christians, the apostle Paul evidently refers to a similar device when assuring the Corinthians that his counsel on marriage is not to “cast a noose [Gr., broʹkhon]” on them.—1 Cor. 7:35.
The throw stick, appearing in Egyptian wall paintings, was a type of boomerang about eighteen inches (45.7 centimeters) in length. It was thrown at the feet of birds that feed on the ground in flocks, such as partridges, quails and others.—Compare 1 Samuel 26:20.
Although falcons and eagles, as well as dogs, appear to have been used for hunting birds by the Assyrians, Persians and Egyptians, there is no evidence for their use by the Israelites. This would be most unlikely inasmuch as these creatures were ceremonially unclean according to the Mosaic law and also might be expected to tear or rend the victim, making it unfit for eating.—Lev. 11:3, 13-16; 17:15.
A provision of the Mosaic law required that the mother bird could not be taken along with her eggs or offspring, and this doubtless served as a conservation measure for certain varieties of birds.—Deut. 22:6, 7.
Man, unable to foresee the future and limited in his ability to cope with calamity, is likened to “birds that are being taken in a trap [Heb., pahh], . . . ensnared at a calamitous time, when it falls upon them suddenly.” (Eccl. 9:12) The righteous are confronted with subtle snares, hidden traps, attractive lures and bait placed in their path to draw them into the domain of the wicked who seek to bring them to moral and spiritual ruin. (Ps. 119:110; 142:3; Hos. 9:8) False prophetesses are condemned for “hunting down . . . souls as though they were flying things.” (Ezek. 13:17-23) However, because Jehovah proves to be with his faithful servants, their “soul is like a bird that is escaped from the trap of baiters. The trap is broken, and we ourselves have escaped.” (Ps. 124:1, 7, 8) The psalmist prayed: “Keep me from the clutches of the trap [pahh] that they have laid for me and from the snares [moq·shohthʹ, feminine plural form of moh·qeshʹ] of those practicing what is hurtful. The wicked will fall into their own nets all together, while I, for my part, pass by.”—Ps. 141:9, 10.