Record of stranded Scopoli’s Shearwaters in 2016

November 4, 2016 4:33 pm

After BirdLife Malta’s call to the public early in October to report any sightings or findings of young Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Ċiefa) which may have become stranded during their first flight, BirdLife Malta has received the highest number ever.

In October 2016 BirdLife Malta rescued 21 stranded Scopoli’s Shearwater fledglings, a number which has been on the increase since the late 80s. October marks the fledging season for Scopoli’s Shearwaters, when these secretive seabirds begin to fledge from their nests for the first time from within the cliffs. Fledging at night, these young birds use the light of the horizon to guide them away from the coast, however the increasing threat of on-land light pollution can disorientate the birds causing them to become stranded inland, ending up in roads, seafronts, towns and other urbanised areas, and unable to fly back out to sea whilst putting their survival in danger.

This year, the areas from where the largest number of stranded Scopoli’s Shearwaters were recovered were Ħal Far, Ċirkewwa and Birżebbuġa in Malta together with Xlendi and Xewkija in Gozo. All of these have notable sources of light pollution such as industrial areas, ports or seafronts. The exception were three birds in Xewkija which ended up stranded in the football pitch due to the strong lights.


A stranded Scopoli’s Shearwater in a street on October 22. Photo by Adin Vella.

In the coming years BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project will be working to decrease the light pollution in coastal areas that affect the shearwaters to avoid such strandings in the future.

The birds discovered this year were retrieved by the public or by BirdLife Malta members. They were then passed on to BirdLife Malta and were checked, ringed and released in safe areas. We would like to thank all those who have reported stranded birds. The stranded birds which are found are only a small amount of the total that become disoriented. Birds stranded on land may get run over in streets or attacked by cats or dogs and never found, but thanks to the increase in public awareness of these birds, BirdLife Malta has been able to rescue many more.

We would like to encourage the public to continue reporting stranded seabirds they may encounter to BirdLife Malta. The next crucial period when the public’s help will be needed is during the Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija) fledging period in June-July 2017.

In the event of finding a stranded chick, BirdLife Malta urges the public to place it gently into a cardboard box and keep it in a quiet place, then call us immediately on 2134 7644 (office hours) or 7925 5697 (emergency out of office).

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. You can also click here to watch a video which shows three Scopoli’s Shearwaters released by BirdLife Malta in October 2016 after they ended up stranded and were collected by members of the public.