Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus brookei
A Peregrine falcon which was probably breeding in Gozo was shot at by hunters on 10 July. Peregrine falcons are one of the rarest of breeding birds and the killing of this bird proves that illegal hunting is far from over.
Reaching speeds of over 200mph, the falcon is also known as the fastest bird on earth.
The ornithologist who informed MaltaToday said there were three hunters on speedboats beneath the cliffs close to Ta’ Cenc in Gozo, who shot at a Peregrine falcon at least three times.
The birder was informed by reliable sources that the female peregrine, of the pair breeding close to Ta’ Cenc was shot and killed around two months earlier from Wardija Point in Gozo.
“They are now probably chasing the male. I think it’s a joke when they say things have changed for the better just to comfort ourselves,” the birdwatcher said.
Birdlife Malta condemned the act and said that 120 of its members were currently on an evening boat trip to watch rafting Cory’s Shearwaters off Ta’ Cenc when they were alerted by shots being fired from the cliffs.
Witnesses said that apart from the three gunmen on the speedboat, another two men were on the cliffs coordinating the incident – one of these was also armed with a shotgun.
BirdLife members reported the illegal hunting incident to the Armed Forces of Malta, who arrived with a patrol boat within five minutes.
The poachers fled the scene at great speed heading towards Xlendi as soon as the AFM vessel was seen approaching.
The Peregrine Falcon has a historical link to Malta. The Knights of St John were obliged to capture and give a live Peregrine Falcon as rent for the islands of Malta: payable each year to the King of Spain since 1530 (Malta having been previously part of the Kngdom of the Two Sicilies, and therefore technically Spanish territory).
Evidence that the Peregrine falcon was a common breeding bird then includes numerous place names such as Rdum il-Bies. The Peregrine Falcon is known as Bies in Maltese, and Maltese cliffs are an ideal breeding spot for these birds.
Nicholas Barbara, Birdlife Malta’s conservation and policy officer, condemned the act adding that this falcon is one of a few birds of prey which used to breed in Malta until it was exterminated as a result of illegal hunting in the eighties.
“Despite falcons making an appearance in the Maltese islands with attempts at breeding over the years, illegal hunting still remains the largest threat to this falcon, preventing it from ever becoming a regular breeder,” Barbara said.
As a result, killing falcons which decide to take nest along Malta’s cliffs is directly preventing the species from re-establishing itself in Malta.
If in possession of a special licence, Maltese hunters are permitted to shoot only quails and turtle doves until the end of April during a limited spring hunting season which is also conditioned by quotas.
A daily and seasonal bag limit is also applied to each individual hunter set at shooting to birds a day and a maximum of four throughout the whole season, but larger numbers have been permitted by the Maltese government.
While at a local level illegal hunting remains the largest threat, the falcon suffers other forms of persecution on an international level such as poisoning and egg collection.
“These are not common in Malta for this species. Though Peregrine Falcons may also breed in urban areas, Malta’s coastal cliffs present ample available habitat for this species,” Barbara said.
Barbara added that when the incentive to kill a unique specimen like the Peregrine Falcon outweighs the penalties faced in court, poachers go to the extremes of organised crime.
Asked whether there were any plans to re-introduce the Peregrine Falcon for breeding in Malta, Barbara said it would be rash to even consider such a possibility at this time.
“We are not aware of any attempts to reintroduce this species in Malta. Considering the current illegal hunting situation, such attempts would be too premature. It is better if efforts are made at curtailing illegal hunting before even considering reintroducing this species,” Barbara stressed.