Raptor Camp 2014: A peaceful sleep

September 29, 2014 9:11 pm
Hunting stop gives migratory birds peace to find at place to roost for the night.

Migratory birds appear to be enjoying this Autumn’s three-week break during the hunting season in 
Malta. During one week in which the ban on hunting has been proven to work, and only a few shots have been heard in the landscape and there are few reports about killed and wounded birds of protected species, there are of course many more birds that have survived to fly over or to stay in Malta on their trip to Africa, but suddenly we have also seen especially birds of prey behave more naturally in Malta, as they do in many other places in Europe. 
Through several years of participation in the autumn Raptor Camps organized by BirdLife Malta, we have daily seen birds of prey such as Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards and several species of falcons fly restlessly around long after sunset and nightfall. From late afternoon they have obviously been looking for places to roost and stay overnight. They landed on the ground, in shrubs and trees, and we have seen them coming up again, search for a new safe place to stay, land and leave again many times, before they finally settled somewhere in the darkness.
But not this fall. This week’s Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards simply dropped down from a great height and landed in a tree or in a shrub, after which we have not seen more of them that evening. 
It seems that the absence of men and hunting dogs everywhere in the landscape makes the migratory birds much more confident in their unfamiliar surroundings. They scan apparently the landscape at high altitude and feel immediately safe in the place, where they then choose to land and are not disturbed – not just by poachers who want to kill them, but also by hunters who do not intend to commit anything illegal, but simply constitute a disturbance by being in the countryside beyond roads and trails in their lawful errand. 
For example a team from BirdLife Malta‘s Raptor Camp one evening towards sunset observed a flock of 9 marsh harriers dropping down from a great height and land directly to rest for the night on a slope at Bingemma. We are accustomed that such a group will behave restlessly, fly around and land again several times in the next hour, until it is almost completely dark, but so it was not this time. The Marsh Harriers just landed, and we did not see them again that evening. 
After 19 hours we have during the first week of no hunting counted no birds restlessly flying around. There has been quiet at least one hour before there used to be, and we only have observed migratory birds, which are naturally on the move after sunset, such as flocks of herons that continue over the sea towards Africa even after dark, and nightjars hunting. 
The phenomenon has been obvious almost every evening throughout the week. Most Marsh Harriers and Honey Buzzards, who stay in Maltaat the end of September, are juvenile birds that have never before been on a migration to Africa before, so they have no experience with poachers in Malta and no clue that something is different in this autumn. They behave just like birds of prey of their species instinctively will do at any place, where they meet conditions, that are natural to them. 
The experience of the hunting ban thus shows that it is not just about poaching, but also that migratory birds in Malta – and everywhere else – need peace in the countryside to seek shelter for the night, and it would be good for them if hunting in general is limited – not necessarily completely abolished – to stop a couple of hours before sunset each day.

Words by Ole Friis Larsen, BirdLife Denmark

Photos by Ole Friis Larsen and John Aldridge



BirdLife Malta has been given the opportunity to set up a rehabilitation centre here in Malta. The government have offered a restored farmhouse in Buskett Gardens, a protected area of woodland in the south of Malta. One of the greenest areas on the islands, the gardens provide a quiet and peaceful setting for the birds to recover in. 
The Maltese government will be covering the costs of running the centre, which will include the water and electricity to supply the farmhouse. But BirdLife Malta will have to cover all other costs. This includes funding equipment, food and medicine to treat the birds. 
Contributions to this campaign will ensure we can get this centre up and running before the next migration season. 

Please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/back-to-the-sky/x/6316451 to view the campaign and make a donation. If you can’t donate, please share the link with family and friends.