Cory’s Shearwater chicks alone after parents killed in Gharb
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BirdLife Malta said it has today filed reports with MEPA and the Gozo Police over the find of four dead Cory’s Shearwater dumped on top of the Gharb cliffs last weekend. The birds were found by a member of the public who photographed them and contacted BirdLife Malta.
Birdlife said that the birds’ underwing feathers had been plucked. “In the past fishermen used to catch Cory’s Shearwater for these feathers which were used as fishing lures, however nowadays longer lasting and more effective artificial lures are widely and cheaply available.”
“The birds were probably killed late at night as they landed on ledges in the cliff face, returning to feed their chicks after spending a few days fishing at sea,” stated John J. Borg, BirdLife Malta ornithologist.
Birdlife said that “the birds were found above cliffs which house a medium sized breeding colony of Cory’s Shearwater of an estimated 300-350 pairs. The birds have been studied by BirdLife Malta for almost 30 years and many have been fitted with individually numbered rings on their legs. Last year, four birds were also fitted with geo locators, tiny, state-of-the-art electronic tags which record the position of the birds. This was done as part of an ongoing research project aimed at studying Cory’s Shearwater migration patterns. The geo locators were attached to the rings on the birds’ legs. One of the killed birds had one leg cut off. The bird had no other visible injuries.”
At this time of the year, the chicks are completely dependent on the adults and it is highly unlikely that one parent alone will be able to provide enough food for the chick to survive fledging age, putting four chicks in danger of starvation.
Birdlife said that “last weekend’s incident is not an isolated case and similar incidents are recorded on a yearly basis.”
“In most of the colonies being studied we have noticed that over the past few years fewer ringed adult Cory’s Shearwater have been returning to breed. Since Cory’s Shearwater live up to 30 years and are extremely faithful to their nesting sites, this indicates a high mortality rate amongst adults.” said John J. Borg.
“Among the reasons currently identified for this high mortality rate are illegal killings, such as seen this weekend, nest robbing or shooting, rat predation and accidental catches when fishing. These birds are also sensitive to urbanization, light and noise pollution close to colonies. These pressures have resulted in parts of colonies along Malta and Gozo’s coastal cliffs being abandoned, with one colony even being completely abandoned,” Birdlife said.
These seabirds are offered maximum protection under the EU’s Birds Directive, which even requires that areas important to them are protected as Natura 2000 sites.
Furthermore the European Commission directly supports conservation efforts focusing on these birds, and it has just approved funding for a LIFE+ project in Malta, headed by BirdLife Malta with the Office of the Prime Minister, SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) as partners.
“Last weekend’s killing was a cruel and illegal act which also frivolously threatens the colony.” concluded John J. Borg.
Cory’s Shearwaters (in Maltese Ciefa) are long-lived seabirds which pair up for life and nest within crevices in coastal cliffs. Each pair returns to the same nesting spot each year to raise one chick. Nests are visited by the parents in turns during the safety of the night, returning with fish for their young.
The Gharb Cliffs form part of Malta’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites, protected due to nesting seabirds. Cory’s Shearwaters visit these cliffs during the night so as not to reveal the location of their nests. Adapted to spend the majority of their lives out at sea, these seabirds are clumsy and very vulnerable on land.
Photograph: This Cory’s Shearwater is one of four dead birds found on the cliffs above their breeding colony – Photo by John J Borg.