LIFE project records Malta’s oldest Scopoli’s Shearwater

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LIFE project records Malta’s oldest Scopoli’s ShearwaterBirdLife Malta today announced that researchers working on the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project have recorded the return of Malta’s oldest ever Scopoli’s Shearwater (Ciefa) on record to her nesting site.

Recaptured after 28 years, the bird, a female first ringed by seabird ornithologist John J. Borg along the southern cliffs of Malta in 1985 with ring number FF00712, breaks the previous record for Malta’s oldest Scopoli’s Shearwater by six years. Dr Benjamin Metzger, Head of Research for the project, said “We know this bird is at least 30 years old, as she was already a breeding adult when she was first ringed 28 years ago.”LIFE project records Malta’s oldest Scopoli’s ShearwaterScopoli’s shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), previously known as the Cory’s Shearwater, are increasingly being recognised as a distinct species, with the Mediterranean population being separated from other populations such as those of the Azores and Canary Islands, making Malta’s estimated 5,000 breeding pairs a more globally significant population.

Like other shearwater species, pairs of Scopoli’s shearwater remain faithful throughout life and have a very low reproductive rate raising only a single chick each year. Such a biology, coupled with threats of illegal hunting, fishing by-catch and disturbance by humans such as light and noise pollution, make the Scopoli’s particularly vulnerable to population declines.

“Given the perils this female shearwater has faced throughout its life, a 30 year lifetime is one remarkable feat,” said Dr Metzger, adding that this bird has probably managed to raise quite a few generations of Scopoli’s over the years.

Records such as these are only made possible owing to the birds’ faithfulness to nesting sites. After migrating away for a few months, adult pairs return to the very same nesting site year after year. Researchers from the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project have been taking advantage of this phenomenon in order to discover more about the habits of these seabirds at various colony sites around the Maltese Islands.

Dr Benjamin Metzger, the Head Researcher on the project added, “The Scopoli’s returning habits allow us to fit tracking devices with a degree of certainty that we can retrieve them back.”

The LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project is currently researching the habits of these seafarers with the use of tracking devices fitted on adult birds in order to discover important feeding and resting sites for these seabirds. Marking what is considered as being another achievement this year, Dr Metzger and his team retrieved all geolocators, tiny tracking devices fitted to the bird’s legs, from 8 adult Scopoli’s breeding on the isle of Filfla.

“Their remarkable endurance at sea and the presence of safe sanctuaries such as those of the island of Filfla make such results possible,” added Dr Metzger, pointing to the fact that indeed other colonies across the Maltese Islands do not have such guaranteed protection.

Just last Monday night, project researchers endured a barrage of shots aimed at shearwaters at the limits of Hal Far. Birzebbuga police responded to the call however the culprits could not be identified.

The LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project is an EU funded initiative with project partners BirdLife Malta, the RSPB (BirdLife UK), SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change.

The project’s aim is to identify important sites at sea for Malta’s seabirds with the aim of proposing such areas as Natura 2000 sites.

Photos – A female Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) sitting in her nest in a cliff burrow. Photo by Benjamin Metzger. Below – A Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) in its typical shearing flight over the sea. Photo by Maria De Filippo.

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