Two rare breed chicks reared successfully by BirdLife Malta

Both birds are the first candidates of a translocation experiment on Yelkouan Shearwaters, in an attempt to rehabilitate these birds into a wild population

The Yelkouan Shearwater is the most threatened seabird species found in Malta
The Yelkouan Shearwater is the most threatened seabird species found in Malta

Two Yelkouan Shearwater chicks were successfully reared by BirdLife Malta after they were found and rescued by boatmen in two separate occasions at Blue Grotto, Żurrieq.

The oldest chick was released into a nest box in a secure location at one of the Yelkouan Shearwater colonies at Irdum tal-Madonna.

The first rescued shearwater chick, nicknamed ‘Bahar’, was only a few days old and weighing just 32g when it was collected.

Baħar has since been under constant care, growing stronger and heavier every day and, in recent days, it has started to shed its grey fluff, which is characteristic of shearwater chicks and growing feathers typical of adult birds.

The second chick, named ‘Carmel’, was older and stronger than Baħar when it was retrieved. It was named after boatman Carmel Caruana, who recovered the bird at sea.

Both birds are the first candidates of a translocation experiment on Yelkouan Shearwaters, where an attempt is being made to rehabilitate these birds into a wild population after being hand-raised according to the best research available.

Carmel, the older bird, now weighs 390g and – like Bahar – is now also showing its adult plumage, although some of the fluffy down is still present.

“Carmel had reached the fledging weight and has now been put in a nest box, designed specifically for Yelkouan Shearwaters and placed at Irdum tal-Madonna colony site. The bird will now spend some time there in order to imprint on the area and become a fully-functional member of the population,” said Nick Piludu, BirdLife Malta conservation coordinator.

“This is an imitation of the natural chick rearing process, when parents leave their well-fed chicks in the nest until after a few days they are forced to leave to search for food on their own,” he added.

The chicks are being released at a time of year when Yelkouan Shearwater adults abandon their young at the cliffs, to fend for themselves and become independent. The release site chosen is a Natura 2000 site, which holds the largest Yelkouan Shearwater colony in Malta.

The Yelkouan Shearwater is the most threatened seabird species found in Malta; pairs are only able to raise a single young bird per year, a very low and susceptible reproductive rate for a bird that faces many perils at its nesting sites and out at sea.

Yelkouan Shearwater numbers are dwindling within the Mediterranean, and are recognised as a ‘Vulnerable’ species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species.

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