After the closure of the hunting season we felt it would be safer for raptors and other protected migratory birds to roost on the island. During the last few weeks we have watched a number of rare migrants, including a Red Kite, Short-toed Eagle and Common Buzzard. We also witnessed a spectacular migration of herons this autumn, which has been one of the best in recent years.
The Short-toed Eagle is an amazing bird and one of the largest birds to grace the Maltese Islands during the autumn migration. Short-toed Eagles spend the winter in Sub-Saharan Africa and at times fly over Malta on their way there. The breeding population of these eagles numbers up to 8,000 pairs, and they can live up to 17 years. They feed predominantly on snakes, but also on some lizards. Occasionally, they feed on small mammals and very rarely birds and large insects. Due to changes in land use and agriculture, these eagles are in serious decline in most European countries. When a Short-toed Eagle arrived in Dorset (UK) this June, hundreds of birdwatchers flocked to see the rare bird.
After the White Storks incident in September and the savage attack on the birdwatchers, the Raptor Camp volunteers imagined the camp would end on a positive note. On the eve of the 30th September I organised a night watch over a Short-toed Eagle, which chose to roost in a tree at id-Dwejra. Our volunteers kept watch at a distance so as not to disturb the bird, but unfortunately the volunteers heard two shots in the early morning, and when they rushed to the tree the bird was never seen again. The police were quick to arrive on location but the search was unsuccessful at locating either the bird or shooter. The League Against Cruel Sports, who supported BirdLife Malta’s Raptor Camp, has announced it is offering a €2,000 reward for anyone who provides evidence that leads to a conviction of anyone supplying illegally shot birds for taxidermy. BirdLife Malta will continue fighting for these birds and will collaborate with the police in bringing the responsible/s who killed this bird to justice.
It is important to note that the closing of the hunting season did lead to a reduced number of illegalities against protected species. There is still an element in the hunting fraternity that is ready to go to great lengths to acquire a rare bird such as a Short-toed Eagle. After the Short-toed Eagle incident BirdLife Malta is asking for fines to be increased to €15,000 and for custodial sentences to be imposed. Until the hunting community itself starts revealing the names of these perpatrators, developments in the protection of these birds will be slow. It is also crucial that the government sets up a wildlife crime unit, which can ensure that poachers who are taking great lengths to target birds of prey are apprehended.
Words by Christian Debono, Conservation and Policy Officer at BirdLife Malta
Video filmed and produced by Mark McCormick, Senior Communications Officer at League Against Cruel Sports.
BACK TO THE SKY
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.