Finch Sitting – The Controversial Sport Where You Sit on a Chair And Count Bird Calls

Sports are usually associated with skill and effort, be they physical or mental, but in Vinkensport or vinkenzetting (literally ‘Finch Sitting), a traditional animal sport practiced in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, it’s all about sitting down and listening to birds singing.

In Vinkensport, small cages are lined up in a row about six feet apart on the street. Inside each box is a single male chaffinch whose job is to produce as many bird calls as possible in one hour. Sitting in front of the wooden cages are their owners, the vinkeniers (“finchers”) who tally the bird songs with chalk on a large wooden rod. Each chalk line represents one complete bird call which ends in a characteristic flourish known as a susk-e-wiet. Judges walk along the row of cages to make sure no one cheats. The chaffinch with the most bird calls in an hour is declared the winner. Vinkensport is a very passive sport, some would even call it boring, but it is also a very controversial one.

Photo: Spotter2/Wikimedia Commons

Vinkenzetting can be traced back to the late 16th century, when historical documents first mention is as a sport among Flemish merchants. By the nineteenth century, the sport’s popularity had waned considerably, but, for some reason, it saw a resurgence after World War I and as of 2007, there are more than 13,000 vinkeniers breeding 10,000 birds every year.


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According to Wikipedia, chaffinch use a variety ot methods to make sure their birds have a chance to win Vinkensport competitions. These include selective breeding, high-protein diets, and controversial singing stimulation techniques, like playing music and recordings of bird song and using artificial lights.


Animal activists have slammed vinkeniers for keeping chaffinch in small dark cages for their own entertainment and “brainwashing” the birds into singing more than is natural or healthy, by playing loops of other bird calls. Vinkensport champions can reportedly produce over 1,000 bird calls in one hour, which definitely doesn’t sound natural…



Another controversial aspect of Vinkensport is cheating. The owner of one chaffinch that managed to produce a record 1,278 susk-e-weits in one hour was later accused of cheating by doping his bird with testosterone. Another time, a bird managed to produce the exact number of bird calls in three rounds of the competition, and when its cage was opened, a CD player was found inside. The things people will do to win a bird call competition.


As cruel as keeping the birds in dark, small cakes may seem to some, Vinkensport used to be even crueler in the old days, when Flemish merchants used to blind their chaffinch males, because they believed they sang more without any distractions…

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