Keep an eye open for stranded seabirds!

October 7, 2017 10:58 am

In the coming days, Scopoli’s Shearwater chicks will begin to fledge from their nests in the cliffs for the first time and BirdLife Malta is calling for the public’s assistance to report any potential strandings.

Fledging at night, these young birds are said to 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, appearing in roads, seafronts, towns and other urbanised areas, and unable to fly back out to sea whilst putting their survival in danger.

Scopoli’s Shearwater fledgling (Photo by Paulo Lago)

As we do every year during the fledging season of these secretive birds, we are calling on the public to report any sightings or findings of stranded chicks to BirdLife Malta. Where possible stranded birds should be collected and gently placed in a cardboard box. They should then be kept in a quiet place until they are retrieved by BirdLife Malta staff to be safely released back at sea. BirdLife Malta can be reached on 2134 7644 (office hours) or 7925 5697 (emergency out of office).

This applies especially for the days between 14th and 24th October which are considered as the peak period for strandings, although the period can last until the beginning of November. Although people living close to localities like Pembroke, Birżebbuġa, Ħal Far and Ċirkewwa in Malta; and Xlendi and Mġarr in Gozo are more likely to encounter such cases especially if they are taking a walk late at night or early in the morning close to the coast, it could happen almost in any location by the coast.

During last year’s fledging season of Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters BirdLife Malta received the highest number ever of stranded shearwaters, with more than 20 Scopoli’s Shearwaters and seven Yelkouan Shearwaters. Despite demonstrating the persistent threat of light pollution, the increase in reports also highlights an improvement in public awareness of the species.

Adult Scopoli’s Shearwater in flight (Photo by Tim Micallef)

The Scopoli’s Shearwater, the larger of the two shearwater species, has an estimated population of 4,500 pairs in Malta – approximately 5% of the world breeding population. This protected species of seabird, which can be recognised by its grey-brown back with white underbelly and yellow bill, can often be seen ‘shearing’ over the tops of waves.

The Scopoli’s Shearwater is currently benefiting from several conservation actions which are carried out in BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arcipelagu Garnija project, including efforts to decrease light pollution in coastal areas.

The rescue and release of these young chicks would not be possible without ongoing support from the public. You can help this vital work continue by supporting BirdLife Malta’s lastest crowdfunding campaign #ISAVEBIRDS.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.