Yelkouan Shearwaters successfully released

Four young shearwaters released after being found on land, BirdLife appeals for less light pollution 

Researchers from the EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project have this month successfully released four young shearwaters after they were found on land, disorientated by coastal light pollution.

The Malta Seabird Project team filmed the release earlier this month of two of the Yelkouans (Garnija) at Rdum tal-Madonna.

These two Yelkouans were handed over to BirdLife Malta by the government veterinary service, while two others were found by members of the public close to two coastal hotels.

Malta Seabird Project Manager Nicholas Barbara said that “at this time of the year, Yelkouan Shearwaters are setting out from their nests to fly for the first time, which makes them particularly susceptible to the urban problem of light pollution.”

These seabirds, very similarly to marine turtles wait for darkness to leave their nests, and are guided offshore by the brightest glare, being the horizon in natural circumstances. So during these first flying attempts, young birds can easily get distracted by lights from nearby urban areas, ending up stranded on land, vulnerable to injury by traffic or stray animals. Unless guided back to sea, Yelkouan Shearwaters, may not be able to find their way to the shore.

“The prime solution to this problem is reducing coastal light pollution, and we appeal to all authorities as well as developers to take regard of this phenomenon,” Barbara added.

BirdLife Malta has over the past years, with the assistance of the Light Pollution Awareness Group, issued a report documenting seabird strandings and providing guidance on better lighting schemes. BirdLife Malta have issued an updated report on their website, highlighting problematic areas and the need for action.

Tackling coastal light pollution is an ongoing measure, with conditions already being imposed by MEPA over lighting schemes of major developments. Wider awareness and initiative by establishments however is key to reducing the problem.

BirdLife Malta appealed to members of the public to report any stranded shearwaters. Yelkouan Shearwaters are very dark on the tops of their body and wings with a contrasting white underside and a dark slender bill.

The larger Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Ċiefa) leave their nests in late September and October and they can be recognised by their brown upper side and a large yellow bill with a black tip. Stranding reports can be made to BirdLife Malta on 2134 7644.

Anyone who is interested in catching a glimpse of these seabirds, in a sensitively managed way, BirdLife Malta are running a Shearwater Boat Trip on Saturday 2nd August.

The public can experience the shearwaters flying just above the sea surface, then collecting together in large ‘rafts’ upon the water to wait for sunset. At this point the boat will leave, so as not to disturb the shearwaters returning to the cliffs.

Tickets are €6 for members and €8 for non-members. To find out further details or to make a booking for this event, please contact Holly at [email protected] or phone the BirdLife office on 21347646.