The importance of Raptor Camp for migrating birds: a Maltese volunteer’s perspective

September 30, 2013 9:03 am

by Timothy Micallef 

Monitoring bird migration and illegal hunting in Malta and Gozo, the annual Raptor Camphas become of utmost importance locally. It combines local and international efforts to deter and bring to light illegal shooting at migrating birds, particularly birds of prey. As a Maltese citizen I’ve faced the reality of widespread illegal hunting before, and volunteering with BirdLife Malta is the best possible way I can contribute to the safeguarding of wild birds, especially during the peak weeks of raptor migration.
An injured shot Marsh Harrier found by a member of public and passed to BirdLife Malta last week.
Photo: Rupert Mowat

The international concern regarding illegal huntingin Malta is no coincidence. Hunters and their supporters continuously claim it isn’t a big issue locally, of course protecting their own interests. Witnessing Honey Buzzards shot down, Barn Swallows targeted and other injured raptors just this week is personally a reminder of the grim situation we’re in, even in 2013. Seeing such barbaric acts are disgusting and shameful, but at the same time unsurprising to me. So watching is the only way to possibly deter such illegalities.

When hearing hunters call migratory birds which aren’t rarities ‘rubbish’ as they drive past our look out points around the islands, it’s hard to believe that such people really care about distinguishing between species that are protected and the unprotected ones. Another time, when a hunter loudly asked whether we were expecting to see an eagle, the complete lack of understanding of certain people reveals itself. This camp is set up to watch over all birds migrating, even the commoner species such as Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards that migrate in significant numbers through Malta.
Raptor Camp volunteers on surveillance in the countryside
keep a lookout for birds and illegal hunters.
Photo: Robert Spanring

Surveillance is carried out to properly report any illegal incidents to the police. From my recent experiences I can say that the authorities do respond, more often than not. However, the correspondence between hunters themselves is organised well. The constant phone calls hunters exchange is phenomenal. At first sight of a camp team in their vicinity, hunters in the area would have a quick chat on their mobiles. Just spreading the word that they’re being watched I suppose, but why should they be worried. They’re strictly hunters not poachers, right?

I truly do enjoy watching bird migration locally, but simultaneously seeing protected birds shot down or injured by pellets is a tragedy. I’m sure it would be even more disastrous for migrating birds without our presence.

Timothy Micallef is a birdwatcher and active volunteer with BirdLife Malta. Timothy is also one of the leaders of BirdLife’s youth group, FALKO, as well as being a full-time student at MCAST studying Environmental Sustainability.
To support BirdLife Malta’s bird protection camps and other work to end illegal hunting in the Maltese Islands please Join BirdLife Malta
You can also DONATE to help us meet the ever increasing costs of the camps, including the purchasing of essential equipment for monitoring and recording illegalities like shooting at protected birds to support police prosecution of illegal hunters.

Raptor Camp 2013 is being supported by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, who have provided photo/video-scope equipment for use in BirdLife Malta activities to prevent and detect illegal hunting.