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BirdLife Malta today thanked members of public and the Malta Police Force for their response to the unusually high number of young Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) that have been seen around the islands over the past week.
BLM said that since the first sighting of a flock of more than 40 flamingos, including adults and young birds, on Monday last week, reports of young birds separated from the main flock and landing or even ditching into the sea have abounded.
The juvenile flamingos are easily distinguished from adults by their greyish plumage, as opposed to the bright pink for which these striking birds are known.
“Unfortunately, it has not all been good news, and there have been incidents of shooting which have marred the overall public response to protect and help these birds,” said Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager.
“Yesterday, photos apparently showing a flamingo in the sea at Mgarr ix-Xini, Gozo, were posted to Facebook, after members of the public on a boat witnessed the bird being shot down by a hunter standing on the shore. The man then sent his dog into the sea to retrieve the carcass. It is not known whether police have apprehended anyone for the shooting.”
There was also a report of shooting at flamingos in Ramla Il-Hamra in GozoHowever, last Tuesday morning one young flamingo was found feeding and resting in the lagoon at the Ghadira wetland in Mellieha, where it stayed for several days, being guarded by police and BirdLife Malta volunteers before leaving on Friday afternoon.
On the same afternoon, Hibs under seventeens players helped another exhausted young flamingo after it landed at their Verdala grounds in the middle of a training session. The footballers gave the young bird water and it was passed to the Cospicua Police and subsequently released at the Ghadira Nature Reserve on Saturday morning, staying for the rest of the day and eventually leaving on Sunday morning.
“We would like to publicly express our gratitude to the police for their efforts and to the members of public who were quick to report any weak and struggling birds. We have seen the best side of the Maltese affinity and caring for nature and wildlife,” said Steve Micklewright,
BLM said that Sunday night saw residents at Salina join police and BirdLife volunteers in an overnight watch to guard a single juvenile flamingo which landed in the salt pans during the day, renewing talk of the need for a Salina Neighbourhood Birdwatch group to prevent a repeat of June’s night-time killing of an adult flamingo in the same spot.
“It is thought that the storm we experienced in the middle of last week may have been a factor in so many of the young birds landing and staying on the islands rather than continuing on with the rest of the flock.”
“Weather plays a huge part in migration and adverse conditions like those we had last week could certainly have made it very difficult for these young birds if they were already weak from flying a long distance to reach Malta,” said Nicholas Barbara.
BLM said that a report was of received of shooting at flamingos in Marsaxlokk in the south of Malta, bringing the toll to at least three flamingos killed this week.
Referring to the recent decision to extend hunting hours until 7pm between 15th and 30th September, Steve Micklewright asked, “If this is happening now, when there is no legal hunting season as cover for these illegal shootings, what is it going to be like come September, when there will be thousands of hunters in the countryside at the same time as protected birds of prey are coming into roost in the afternoon?”
BirdLife Malta said it encourages members of the public to report any unusual sightings to the organisation as well as documenting and reporting incidents of illegal hunting to the police.
Photographs top – from BLM, taken by one of the witnesses of the shooting of a flamingo at Mgarr ix-Xini in Gozo on Saturday, showing a dog belonging to the culprit collecting the carcass from the sea.
Below – One of the young Greater Flamingos to take up temporary residence in the Ghadira wetland last week. Photo by Rupert Masefield