58. The Blue Rock Thrush

Show any Maltese kid a bird chart and ask him to pick out the blue rock thrush (Maltese: merill) - he will do it effortlessly. The reason for the familiarity, of course, is that it's the national bird and so children learn about it at school. The honour suits the bird well: it is the quintessential species of the rocky seacliffs so typical of the country, especially the western coasts. Yet for all its popularity most people have never actually seen one. Not only is the blue rock thrush scarce, it is also a shy bird, largely shunning human habitation and keeping to garrigue countryside where it hunts reptiles and insects. It nests in cracks along the inaccessible cliff faces, which is what has saved it (so far) from being driven to extinction by hunters and nest robbers. Due to its national-bird status many people think that the blue rock thrush is endemic to Malta, but the species occurs right across the Mediterranean. The reason it was chosen, in 1971, as the national bird was to gain a declining species some respect and protection - it is in fact protected under Maltese law. For many years the bird was the logo of the Malta Ornithological Society, now BirdLife Malta.    

Text by Victor Falzon, photo by Denis Cachia.

Copyright to Birdlife Malta.

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