Rare bird sighting ends with a protected species illegally shot at Salina

May 28, 2018 3:15 pm

During the past week an Avocet – which is a very scarce and irregular migrant species – was observed first at BirdLife Malta’s Għadira Nature Reserve and then at Salina Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, this beautiful and rare wader was illegally shot over the weekend despite being a highly protected species and being in a supposedly protected area during the closed season. Both Għadira and Salina are Natura 2000 sites and protected bird sanctuaries.

The Avocet at Għadira Nature Reserve (Photo by Aron Tanti)

The Avocet was first sighted at Għadira Nature Reserve on Sunday 20th May, early in the morning where it could also be enjoyed by members of the public and families who visited BirdLife Malta’s reserve during that weekend.

After spending a few days at the reserve, on Wednesday 23rd May the Avocet left Għadira and was photographed flying over the Tas-Safra area on the coastroad before settling at Salina Nature Reserve where after a couple of a few more days it was shot during the night between Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th May.

The bird was monitored day and night while it was at BirdLife Malta’s Għadira Nature Reserve. When it flew to Salina, although BirdLife Malta kept on monitoring it as much as possible, the fact that the site is fully accessible at all times made this bird more prone to be shot.

The Avocet at Salina (Photo by Aron Tanti)

In fact, some time between the late hours of Saturday and the early hours of Sunday the bird was shot by someone who either entered the reserve in the middle of the night to commit the illegal act or opened fire on the protected species from the perimiter of the saltpans.

As soon as BirdLife Malta was made aware by members of the public that gunshots were heard in the area, the police were immediately informed. At that point the bird was seen dead floating in the water and BirdLife Malta staff then retrieved it from the water early yesterday morning. The bird’s carcass was taken to the government vet who confirmed that the Avocet was illegally shot.

Protected Avocet, a very scarce and irregular migrant, spent last week at Għadira and Salina Nature Reserves before being shot in the middle of the night over the weekend

The Avocet (Xifa in Maltese, Scientific name: Recurvirostra avosetta) is a very striking bird easily distinguishable from its black and white plumage and its very long legs. It has a thin, black bill which is curved upwards making it a unique species. In the Mediterranean it breeds in coastal areas, making a nest on mud or sand. Some winter in the Mediterranean and others in Africa.

The illegally shot Avocet as soon as it was retrieved from the water at Salina Nature Reserve (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

In Malta it is sometimes seen in spring, autumn and even in winter. It is mainly seen in singles or couples, but sometimes small flocks are also recorded migrating offshore.

This species (Pied Avocet) is protected at law under Annex 1 of the European Birds Directive, and as a result under Maltese law killing this species is punishable by a €5,000 fine.

Irrespective of these high fines, the lack of enforcement and the slacking of regulatory procedures by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) concerning taxidermy, including inspections of private collections, is resulting in an increase in the number of shot protected birds for taxidermy purposes, as seems to be the case of this Avocet.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.