Scopoli’s Shearwaters cause a sensation

July 10, 2014 6:07 pm

By Tim Micallef

Ta ‘ Cenc cliffs, photo by Aron Tanti

The annual boat trips to Ta’ Cenc organised by BirdLife Malta took place last week. As the breeding season of our commonest breeding seabird is in full swing, members had the chance to witness one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the Maltese archipelago. Families, birders and nature photographers enjoyed a few hours observing Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) off Gozo’s coast. Before setting off participants were given a short talk about the ongoing EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project, with its head researcher Dr. Benjamin Metzger explaining the main research methods and aims of the project. It focuses on three Maltese breeding seabirds (the Scopoli’s Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater and European Storm Petrel) and the conservation of their habitat, both on land and at sea.

Introduction from Holly the Events Assistant and the Malta Seabird Project team
– Ben Metzger and Paulo Lago Barreiro, photo by Tim Micallef

Ta’ Cenc has up to one thousand breeding pairs, the largest Scopoli’s Shearwater colony locally. Other bird species such as the Short-toed Lark and the Blue Rock Thrush also breed in the garigue and steppe on these cliffs, which is one of Malta’s thirty nine Natura 2000 sites. Large groups of these shearwaters gather almost each night at dusk, close to their breeding sites in the cliffs. This grouping of seabirds as they await total darkness to enter their respective burrows, is known as rafting. We encountered small rafts at first, with some birds shearing the water’s surface by our boat. Everyone was amazed at the sight of these wonderful seabirds, especially with hazy cliffs and sunset in the backdrop.

After a while in the area surrounded by these rafts, we headed back to mainland Malta while the rafts gradually moved closer to the cliff face. On our way back a few Yelkouan Shearwaters whizzed past and some Yellow-legged Gulls flew overhead, keeping us entertained for the remainder of our pelagic trip. These boat trips are always a success, and to keep it that way we must maintain and support all local conservation efforts for our seabirds.

Scopoli’s Shearwaters rafting, photo by Tim Micallef


Experience a Shearwater Boat Trip: BirdLife Malta will also be running a Shearwater Boat Trip for members of the public to enjoy. Taking place on Saturday 2nd August, 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 [email protected] or phone the BirdLife office on 21347646.


The EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project  aims to identify Marine Important Bird Areas for the three species of tubenose seabirds breeding in the Maltese Islands. The project is 50% funded by the EU’s LIFE unit, and is a partnership between BirdLife Malta, the RSPB (BirdLife UK), SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change
Click here to find out more about the Malta Seabird Project. You can also follow them on Twitter and on Facebook.