‘Unusual’ migratory birds observed as BirdLife Malta reiterates claims of ‘unsustainable’ spring hunting

BirdLife Malta has reiterated its argument that spring hunting season should not be opened, as migratory birds are observed flying over Malta

Garganey were spotted as they moved over the Malta-Gozo channel
Garganey were spotted as they moved over the Malta-Gozo channel

As spring migration season for birds has opened, several species have been observed flying over Malta, some of which are irregular for the area, BirdLife Malta  has said, as it echoed its claim that spring hunting is should not be opened.

According to BirdLife Malta, a Great Crested Grebe was sighted at Manoel Island, Hoopoes and House Martins over the last few weeks, as were the first birds of prey such as Marsh Harriers.

The organisation added that last weekend’s full moon marked a peak time to observe duck migration, with Ferruginous Ducks, Garganeys, Pintails, Shovelers, Common Shelducks, Eurasian Teals and Wigeons being spotted as they moved over the Malta-Gozo channel. Herons, egrets and waders such as Black-tailed Godwits, Common Sandpipers, Common Redshanks and Ruffs, were also observed, BirdLife Malta said.

A Hoopoe feeding in Hal Far
A Hoopoe feeding in Hal Far

BirdLife Malta pinpointed the Common Cranes and Glossy Ibises, both birds they claim are irregular visitors to the Maltese Islands, as species that have been observed so far.

BirdLife Malta noted that the spring migration, which occurs between mid-March and the end of May, coincides with Malta’s quail hunting season, which will open between 25 March and 14 April. There will be no hunting season for turtle dove this year as it was deemed vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. As a form of ‘compensation’ to hunters, the seasonal bag limit for quail will increase from four to 10 birds, while the daily bag limit will increase from two to five birds. The national seasonal bag limit will remain unchanged at 5,000 birds.

BirdLife Malta has previously insisted that a spring hunting season should not be opened for quail, as recent data from a government-commissioned study shows that 69,915 quail migrated over Malta in the 2016 autumn hunting season, up from 50,514 in 2015 and 54,683 in 2014. BirdLife Malta had argued that more than enough birds migrate over Malta during the autumn hunting season to justify the spring hunting season being left unopened.

A Glossy Ibis spotted in Ghadira
A Glossy Ibis spotted in Ghadira

BirdLife Malta explained that Malta acts as a crucial stop for the birds who are migrating to breeding grounds, arguing that spring hunting is unjustifiable due to its interference in the birds’ lifecycle.

“During this mammoth migration, birds face many obstacles including the arduous journey over the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, making the Maltese Islands a crucial stop-over point on the migration route for these birds to seek refuge and rest before continuing further north. It is for this reason that spring hunting is both unacceptable and unsustainable since it targets birds that are en- route to their breeding grounds,” BirdLife Malta said.

BirdLife Malta had criticised the government for its decision to open a spring hunting season, arguing that it is placing its political promises to the hunting lobby ahead of scientific facts.

BirdLife Malta’s vote during the Ornis meeting was the only one against a spring hunting season for 2017. The Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), and the two independent government-chosen representatives along with the Ornis Committee Chairman all voted in favour.

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