Study shows increase in finch numbers – Birdlife Malta

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Study shows increase in finch numbers - Birdlife MataA study by the EU LIFE+ Project on Bird Migration and Trapping revealed that the number of finches (Ghasafar tal-ghana) recorded in the Maltese countryside increased dramatically in the first year of the trapping ban in 2009, compared to 2008 when finch trapping was still permitted (1).

The study aimed at examining the impact of trapping on birds in Malta, and analysed reports by ornithologists of sightings all over the Maltese archipelago throughout the year.

The study shows that in 2009 all the finch species were seen more frequently and in larger numbers than in 2008. The largest increases were recorded for Greenfinch (Verdun), Chaffinch (Sponsun), and Linnet (Gojjin), with Greenfinch (Verdun) increasing by over 300 percent. These three species were generally the most commonly caught finches before the trapping ban.

Five of the seven species increasing by over 100 percent each, and increases for all the finch species were noted in every month of 2009 over 2008, except for January where the count was almost identical.

The largest percentage increases were observed in April and November during the peak spring and autumn migration periods for these species. In April over 800 percent more finches were sighted in 2009 than in 2008, for all the species combined. The percentage increase in finches recorded in June stood at a high 380 percent, indicating that more birds were staying over in Malta after the spring migration season.

Furthermore, the ornithologists carrying out breeding bird surveys last year recorded Chaffinch (Sponsun) and Linnet (Gojjin) as confirmed breeding, and Greenfinch (Verdun) and Serin (Apparell) as probable breeding, following the methodology set by the European Bird Census Council (2).

Geoffrey Saliba, BirdLife Malta Campaigns Coordinator said; “The increases in the number of finches seen last year and the confirmed breeding of two species of finch show that given the chance, these birds could also breed in the Maltese islands. Finches are common breeders in Europe and they also breed on other small central Mediterranean islands.”

1. When Malta joined the EU it negotiated a five year phasing out period for the trapping of seven finch species. In line with this agreement the government did not open the finch trapping season in 2009. Annex XI to the Act of Accession for Malta gives the conditions agreed upon granting Malta a 5 year phasing out period. The agreement states: “By way of derogation from Articles 5(a), 5(e), 8(1) and Annex IV(a) of Directive 79/409/EEC, Carduelis cannabina, Carduelis serinus, Carduelis chloris, Carduelis carduelis, Carduelis spinus, Fringilla coelebs and Coccothraustes coccothraustes may be deliberately captured until 31 December 2008 by traditional nets known as clap-nets within the Maltese islands exclusively for the purpose of keeping them in captivity in accordance…”

2. The European Bird Census Council is an association of expert ornithologists co-operating in a range of ways to improve bird monitoring and atlas work and thereby inform and improve the management and conservation of bird populations in Europe.

Photo: Chaffinch breed on other small central Mediterranean islands, and in 2009 were confirmed breeding in two separate locations in Malta. Photo by Aron Tanti.

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