A record year for stranded Yelkouan Shearwater fledglings

August 6, 2018 10:52 am

This year has seen a record total of nine stranded Yelkouan Shearwater fledglings recovered by members of the public in their fledging period between June and July. BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project team would like to thank everyone that has helped to give these fledglings a second chance.

Yelkouan Shearwater being ringed before release (Photo by Aron Tanti)

This high number of stranded young Yelkouan Shearwaters retrieved by BirdLife Malta marks an increase of two over last year’s numbers and is probably the result of our appeal to the public made in mid-June to help disorientated seabird chicks during the fledging season. During this period, the young seabirds fledge from their nests in the cliffs at night for the first time. However, bright coastal lights leave them disorientated and some of them become stranded inland in urban areas, unable to fly back out to sea.

Yelkouan Shearwater (Photo by Aron Tanti)

BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project team thanks the public for rescuing seabird chicks which become disorientated due to light pollution

When these birds are recovered, they are inspected by a vet for any injuries they may have sustained. They are then rehabilitated and released once strong enough to fly. Of the nine recovered, eight of the birds were successfully released at known shearwater colonies in Malta. One bird unfortunately succumbed to the injuries it sustained when it ended up stranded in an urban area.

Buġibba light pollution (Photo by Paulo Lago)

During the early stages of the LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project, a thorough assessment was conducted in order to identify the major threats on land facing the breeding populations of shearwaters across the Maltese Islands, including light pollution. Shearwaters are susceptible to becoming disorientated due to bright lights of developed areas along the coast, with fledglings being especially vulnerable. Shearwater activity near land increases significantly during the night when they return from foraging trips to their breeding colonies. Those that become stranded are at high risk of predation by cats, colliding with buildings or vehicles, and dehydration.

Working together with the Light Pollution Awareness Group, levels of light pollution affecting the shearwater colonies were assessed. Areas with high levels of light pollution account for the vast majority of stranded shearwater fledglings. Many Yelkouan Shearwater strandings occur within the coastal area from St. Paul’s Bay to Qawra, Ċirkewwa to Armier, and Mellieħa. During the next two years, the project team will work alongside local councils and business owners to help reduce and mitigate the effects of light pollution.

Yelkouan Shearwater release (Photo by Aron Tanti)

The peak Yelkouan Shearwater fledging period has now passed. However, we would ask everyone to remain vigilant for stranded shearwaters over the coming months as Scopoli’s Shearwaters will begin to fledge towards the end of September and throughout October.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. The video below shows some of the stranded Yelkouan Shearwaters we recovered in the past weeks being released after rehabilitation. You can also watch the official video of the LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project here.