Look around your nearest seafront to rescue Yelkouan Shearwater fledglings

June 15, 2018 11:44 am

At this time of year, the young Yelkouan Shearwaters leave the nests at night to train their wings in the cliffs where they breed. After several nights they will then fledge from their remote cliff-side locations for the first time, using the light of the horizon to guide them.

Yelkouan Shearwater fledgling (Photo by Benjamin Metzger)

However, bright coastal lights can leave these young seabirds disorientated increasing their chances of becoming stranded inland in roads, seafronts, ports, towns, and other urbanised areas. Once they are stranded they are unable to fly back out to sea – where they spend the majority of their lives – putting their survival in danger.

BirdLife Malta appeals to the public to help disorientated seabird chicks as fledging season starts

Malta is home to up to 10% of the global population of Yelkouan Shearwaters equating to around 2,000 breeding pairs found in various sites across the Maltese Islands. Despite this, the species population is in decline, with one of the main threats being light pollution.

Buġibba, Qawra, Mellieħa, Salina, and Ċirkewwa are the main sources of light pollution for the Yelkouan Shearwater colonies of St. Paul’s Island, Comino and Rdum tal-Madonna (L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa) – Malta’s biggest colony.

BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project is working to reduce the impacts of light pollution close to the colonies to ensure this seabird’s long-term protection. We have recorded an increase in the number of stranded birds rescued in the past years especially during these first three years that our LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project has been running. This is a consequence of the increase in lights from development but also the result of an increase in awareness thanks to the efforts of BirdLife Malta and the public to rescue stranded seabirds.

Light pollution at Buġibba as seen from St. Paul’s Island where a Yelkouan Shearwater colony breeds (Photo by Paulo Lago)

It is only with the support of the public who report the stranding of young seabird chicks that BirdLife Malta is able to rescue and release them back into safe locations at night, allowing them to continue with their journey at sea.

If you are walking along the seafronts and the coast of Buġibba, Qawra, Mellieħa, Salina, Ċirkewwa and other similar areas late at night or early in the morning and you find a stranded Yelkouan Shearwater, please call BirdLife Malta immediately and gently place the bird in a cardboard box in a dark area until it can be collected. Do not provide food or water to the bird. BirdLife Malta will check the health of the bird and release it in a safe location as soon as possible.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. The video below shows a stranded Yelkouan Shearwater rescued by BirdLife Malta being released. You can also watch the official video of the LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project here.

How to identify a Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan, Garnija)

  • Medium-sized seabird
  • About 35cm long, with a wingspan of around 85cm
  • Slender black beak, hooked at the peak
  • Blackish upperparts
  • White underparts