Breeding birds easy prey for rabbit hunters – BLM

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Breeding birds easy prey for rabbit hunters - BLMBirdLife Malta has requested amendments to regulations on the rabbit-hunting season this year, to grant protection to potential breeding bird species on the Maltese Islands.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and MEPA, BirdLife Malta said the use of shotguns for rabbit hunting should only be allowed to commence in August. During the months of June and July, when the rabbit hunting is usually ongoing, the use of traditional methods should instead be recommended.

Since the breeding season for many rare bird species in Malta peaks in June and July, hunting for rabbits within these two months should only be allowed using dogs and ferrets. The use of shotguns to hunt rabbits should start in August, to reduce the possibility that poachers would target rare breeding birds.

BirdLife Malta’s recommendation is based on an admission by the FKNK last February in a proposal the Federation submitted to the Ornis Committee entitled ‘Attaining a Higher Level of Sustainable Hunting on the Maltese Islands’. The FKNK had suggested that the hunting season for wild rabbits should commence on 1st July – one month later than usual. The FKNK stated: “This measure could help to prevent the odd turtle-dove and quail that may have stayed on from being shot by some irresponsible wild rabbit hunter.”

Dr Andre Raine, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager, said: “Controls must be in place to prevent the rabbit hunting season from being used to shoot at potential breeding birds. Keeping in mind that the season for rabbit hunting lasts until the end of the year, the postponement of its commencement by a month over what the FKNK suggested is a small measure that can yield significant results.”

During June and July, breeding birds are at their most vulnerable, as they stay in the same territory for extended periods of time and are often very obvious, making them an easy target.

The Rare Breeding Bird Report 2009 (1) lists evidence of illegal hunting incidents in June and July. Last year during the breeding season, BirdLife Malta received several shot protected birds including two Common Cuckoo (an adult male and female), a Pallid Swift (with a brood patch indicating it was breeding), a Black-winged Stilt (the male of a pair that had been carrying out courtship displays in previous weeks at the Ghadira Nature Reserve), a Common Kestrel, and a juvenile Moorhen and a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, both born in 2009. These are only some of the incidents on record.

“While rabbit hunting plays an important role in the control of species considered by humans as ‘pests’, because they may cause crop damage to farmers, a balance was needed to protect rare breeding birds,” concluded Dr Raine.

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