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Tunisian Bird Trap

The Mokelumne Bird Trap, pronounced mo-kulla-mee, originated from the Sierra Nevada plains Indians that surrounded the Mokelumne River and Wilderness area in California. This trap name is given by survivalist Creek Stewart who released teaching based on this trap style. Mokelumne roughly translates as "people of the net," which is befitting, as this trap is quite versatile for applications beyond merely catching birds. Components could be used as a fish trap, dip net, or, if made larger, for small mammals. While I cannot substantiate any claims to any American indigenous people groups, this trap style was witnessed firsthand in 1895 by Mr. O.V. Alpin on a trip to Tunisia, where he witnessed two Arab boys trapping Nightingales, Redstarts, and Warblers of various sort in a desert oasis. The Tunisian Nightingale Trap, which this specific trap is so properly named, can be read about in The History of Fowling by Hugh Alexander Macpherson, an 1897 book about the various traps and methods used to capture birds from around the world. Since I first learned about this trap from Mr. Stewart, I will use the name he has given it, and, let's face it, it just sounds cool once you learn how to say it.

The first step in building this trap is the creation of its net frame. In an urban environment, you could utilize nearly any flexible materials ranging from wire and plumbing parts to tape and fruit bags to make this portion. We'll instead focus on making a more primitive design utilizing palm fiber cordage and small flexible saplings (green and living, not dead and dry). Ideally, the net should be about five times the size of the target bird to be trapped. For this tutorial, we're looking at catching sparrows and smaller birds which will give us a net frame size of roughly 6 inches wide x 8 inches tall.

Step 1: Begin by collecting a green stick no larger than 3/4 inches in diameter, roughly 10 inches long, and wrap each end of the stick with some cordage to prevent the stick from splitting out the ends due to our next step. This stick will be at the bottom of the net frame.

Step 2: On the inside edge of the wrapping you placed on the end of the stick, drive your knife through the stick to create a gap, through which you will insert a thin, flexible branch. This branch should be no greater than one-quarter of an inch (.25") in diameter and 18 to 20 inches long. Sharpen each end of this thin stick to a chisel tip to insert through the gap made by your knife approximately 1 to 2 inches to create tabs. This stick will be at the top of the net frame.

Step 3: Use a square lash to secure the top of the frame to the bottom of the frame. This will also aid in preventing additional splitting along the bottom of the frame as the green stick dries out over time.

Step 4: Using a larks head knot, attach palm fibers all the way around the net frame placed no more than one inch apart. Allow the fiber tails to hang, this is what will be used to create the net itself.

Step 5: Once you have secured your palm fibers around the frame, now hang the frame from a line overhead which will permit you the ability to begin tying the fibers together. You should set the frame at a comfortable height to be done from a standing or seated position as desired. Beginning from one corner of the frame, tie one of the two tails from two lark head knots together using an overhand knot. You should tie the left and right sides of two larks’ heads together to create a diamond shape in your net. Do your best to tie each not as uniformly as possible so that each diamond remains a consistent size of about one inch. Complete at least six rows of knots before you tie off the bottom of your net. Simply secure the bottom by weaving a piece of cordage through the bottom-most diamonds, then cinching it like a drawstring. Tie a few overhand knots, and it will be secure; cut off any excess fiber below your knot. Your net should now be ready to be placed in the trapping engine.

Step 6: To create the trapping engine, select a flexible green sapling approximately one inch in diameter and four feet long. Carefully bend it into an arch, but not quite into a 'U' shape. Sharpen each end of this stick so it can be stuck into the ground; otherwise, create a pilot hole in which you will insert the ends. Take some cordage; for this tutorial, I am using the #36 tarred bank line and tying a loop with enough tension to maintain an arch in your stick. Now, insert the tabs of your net frame between the string of your loop and begin to turn the frame so that tension is created in the loop. Continue turning the trap within the string until your arch becomes a taught 'U' shape. Now that tension is on the net; the engine is loaded, you can insert it into the ground, making sure that the bottom of the trap is at ground level and that the tabs of the frame have travel room to throw (which may require digging out a trench under each tab). Now you can begin creating the trigger system.

Step 7: To create the trigger system, choose another green sapling again one inch in diameter. Sharpen one end to stake it into the ground, and at the top of this stake, you will carve a notch around it, giving your cordage a place to rest without fear of slipping off. The top of the stake stick should be equal to the top of the arch in your engine once it's secured into the ground. Your stake stick should be four to six inches behind your trap engine and set at the center. A piece of cordage should be tied off the top of the stake stick, which will secure to the bait stick.

Step 8: The bait stick should be one inch taller than the top of your engine arch and approximately one inch from ground level. Sharpen to a chisel tip the end of the bait stick. The cordage from the stake stick would be tied to the bait stick using a clove hitch with a safety knot. It should rest securely to the top of the arch so that once loaded; it will bounce easily out of the way of the net once thrown. Now a piece of cordage with a loop should be placed through the net; the loop will be secured to the bait stick with the excess secured to the stake stick. Load the trap by lifting the net frame, and place the bait stick in front of the net; you should now feel the tension in the trap. Secure the bottom of the bait stick with the loop of cordage. You may now apply bait to the loaded trap and make any finer trigger adjustments as needed.

Once you build a few of these traps, you will develop a knack for them and better grasp all the variations in which this system might be used. It's become a favorite trap of mine due to its versatility and ease of use. While it may initially seem tedious, the more you make it, the faster you become. On average, you can expect to spend a few hours making your first trap, but by your third, you'll spend less than an hour. As with all traps, the larger the animal, the more power you will need to capture said animal and the larger the resources required for building. Have fun with it and always check local laws before employing any sort of primitive trapping mechanism, even if the trap is merely for studying a captured animal, as they are illegal in many states.

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