Their forbears in ancient Rome took delight in eating quails, doves, peacocks and even flamingoes, which were prized for their tongues.
Now, a group of Italian public officials are being investigated after being caught tucking into a bacchanalian feast of protected songbirds.
Police in the north of the country are investigating around 20 council officials who sat down to a lunchtime meal of illegally hunted birds, including chaffinches, goldfinches, siskins and bramblings.
The employees, from the villages of Valle Trompia and Gardone Val Trompia near the city of Brescia, are being investigated for contravening wildlife protection and hunting laws.
They are also accused of breaking Covid-19 lockdown regulations, which prohibit gatherings of more than a few people, when they convened for the illegal feast in a council building.
Their clandestine meal allegedly included some rarely-seen species such as hawfinches and red crossbills.
More than 60 birds were found by Carabinieri officers – around three tiny bodies for each diner.
Massimo Ottelli, the president of the local council to which the officials belong, said he was “very saddened” by the incident and would take disciplinary action.
The National Association for the Protection of Animals said: “We are disappointed and angered – those who should be leading by example are often those who don’t care about the law.”
The Anti-Hunting League called the incident “shameful” but not surprising, saying that the region around Brescia is “the worst in Italy, and one of the worst in Europe, for poaching.”
Officials had turned the council property into a “vulgar hostelry” by having wild birds on the menu.
Eating diminutive songbirds may not appeal to many people but it is seen as a delicacy in some parts of Europe.
Gourmets in France are notorious for their love of eating ortolan buntings, tiny birds which are captured alive, fed grain, drowned in a vat of Armagnac and then roasted whole.
Diners drape their heads with linen napkins as they crunch their way through the birds’ bones.
The napkin is to preserve the aroma of the roasted birds – and, it is said, to hide the diners’ shame from the eyes of God.