International birdwatchers gather in Malta as Migration kicks in

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Bee-eater52 volunteers from 8 countries in Europe will be joining Maltese conservationists to monitor bird migration and illegal hunting during BirdLife Malta’s Raptor Camp over the next three weeks.

The international bird monitoring camp started today and will run through the peak migration of raptors (birds of prey) until October the 4th. While recording migration data, Raptor Camp volunteers will also remain vigilant for illegal hunting and trapping activities. Camp attendees will pass on information and evidence to the police regarding illegal hunting activities to assist in their investigations.

BirdLife Malta stated that it did not oppose hunting in autumn as long as it is practiced within the parameters of the law.

Maltese hunters can legally shoot 32 species from the 1st September until the end of January. Hunting after 3pm between 15th September and 30th September is banned to protect birds of prey from poaching. During this period, large numbers of these birds stop to rest in the Maltese islands during their journey to Africa, and are thus vulnerable to poacher’s guns. In recent years they have also been targeted by poachers at night while they sleep, BirdLife said.

“Since the beginning of migration two weeks ago, we have once again started to witness illegal hunting and receive shot protected birds of several species from Bee-eaters and seabirds to herons, including a Purple Heron – a species of conservation concern in Europe. The aim of our Raptor Camp is to stop the illegal killing of protected species and not all hunting in Malta. Birdwatchers and the Maltese people have every right to enjoy the miracle of migration just as law abiding hunters have the right to enjoy their hobby.” said Dr. Andre Raine BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager.

Finch trapping is no longer allowed in Malta as the five year transition period to phase out this practice, agreed upon with the EU during Malta’s accession, expired at the end of last year. Bird trapping is banned in the EU under the Birds Directive. The government this year announced that it will apply a derogation to allow trapping of Turtle Dove and Quail between 1 September and 10 October as well as Golden Plover and Song Trush between 20th October and 10th January.

“However, any derogation needs to be justified through a report that will be submitted to the Commission showing that there is no alternative to the trapping of these species. It also needs to prove that the birds are trapped in small numbers and also that it is strictly supervised. Otherwise the Commission may react as it did with the spring hunting case and take Malta to the European Court of Justice.” concluded Dr Raine.

Malta is on the central European-African migratory flyway, and is a critical area for migratory birds to rest and refuel while undertaking their taxing annual migrations between European breeding grounds and African wintering grounds. The most common migrating birds of prey at this time of year are Honey-buzzard, Marsh Harrier, European Hobby and Common Kestrel, while over 100 wild bird species can be observed over Malta during the autumn migration period.

Photo: Bee-eaters, protected by law, are small colourful birds which were this year confirmed breeding in Malta. BirdLife Malta receives Bee-eaters with shotgun injuries on a yearly basis. Photo by G. Saliba

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