[WATCH] Updated | Rare bird illegaly shot in Salina

A protected avocet – a scarce and irregular migrant species – was shot and killed over the weekend despite being in a protected area

The rare bird was shot and killed at the Salina Nature Reserve
The rare bird was shot and killed at the Salina Nature Reserve

Updated to include statements from Saint Hubert Hunters

An avocet was illegally shot this weekend in the Salina Nature Reserve area – a supposedly protected area – during the closed season, a video by BirdLife Malta revealed.

The rare and irregular migrant species was initially spotted over the past week at BirdLife’s Ghadira Nature Reserve before making its way to the Salina Nature Reserve. Both areas are Natura 2000 sites and protected bird sanctuaries.

The avocet at the Ghadira Nature Reserve
The avocet at the Ghadira Nature Reserve

“The avocet was first sighted at the Ghadira Reserve on 20 May early in the morning here it could also be enjoyed by members of the public and families who visited the reserve,” BirdLife said. “After spending a few days at the reserve, on 30 May the avocet left Ghadira and was photographed flying over the Tas-Safra area on the coastroad, before settling at Salina Nature Reserve.”

The bird was shot and killed at Salina a few days later, during the night between 26 May and 27 May.

BirdLife said that the avocet was monitored day and night while it was at the Ghadira Nature Reserve. “When it flew to Salina, although BirdLife kept on monitoring it as much as possible, the fact that the site is fully accessible at all times made this bird more prone to be shot.”

The avocet was shot by someone who either entered the reserve in the middle of the night to commit the illegal act, or else opened fire on the protected species from the perimeter of the saltpans, BirdLife said.

Police were immediately informed as soon as gunshots were heard. The dead bird was retrieved when it was seen floating in the water, after which it was taken to the vet who confirmed the bird was shot.

The irregular migrant species is protected under the Birds Directive
The irregular migrant species is protected under the Birds Directive

The species – pied avocet – is protected at law under the European Birds Directive, and shooting it is punishable by a €5,000 fine. It is distinguishable by its black and white plumage and its very long legs, as well its thin, black bill which is curved upwards.

“Irrespective of these high fines, the lack of enforcement and the slacking of regulatory procedures by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) concerning taxidermy, including inspections of private collections, is resulting in an increase in the number of shot protected birds for taxidermy purposes, as seems to be the case of this avocet,” BirdLife said.

Saint Hubert Hunters (KSU) have condemned the shooting, explaining that they had been following the bird since 20 May, but did not find the bird when they went back to check on Monday morning.

“Unfortunately we learned of a report of shots during the night at Salina,” they said, insisting that the police take all necessary steps to investigate and find any witnesses and CCTV footage in the area. “KSU insists to the judiciary to show no mercy should any perpetrators be found.”

KSU went on to commend the “exemplary behaviour” of the “majority of the hunting community” who followed and photographed the bird during its stay.