Spring is in the air

April 8, 2019 4:30 pm

Spring is a beautiful time of the year and brings along blossoming flowers decorating our countryside in plentiful colours. But it’s not only our vegetation that is growing into new beginnings! This is also the season for breeding birds in Malta to prepare new homes and lay their eggs to let a new cycle of life begin.  

There are about 18 species of regular breeding birds in Malta, and another 27 species that breed irregularly throughout the year. When we look back – to the period before the 1950s – an additional 16 species have been recorded breeding in Malta, including Western Jackdaw (Ċawla) and Garden Warbler (Bekkafik). These birds, however, are no longer able to breed on the Maltese Islands due to factors such as unsuitable habitat and frequent disturbance. 

Bird ringing on Comino
Bird ringing on Comino

Birds have always played an important role in our lives as human beings and have been featured in different cultures for thousands of years; owls, for instance are symbols of wisdom and Hoopoes were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt. More recently, photography and birdwatching are increasing in popularity and are a popular form of engaging with nature without causing disturbance. A study, published by the University of Exeter last year, found that watching birds near your home is good for your mental health, and the more birds you see, the better it is. Birds also provide plenty of ecosystem services, in other words ways to support and improve human life. Insect pest control, clearing up carrion and seed dispersal are some ways in which birds contribute to our environment. 

Unfortunately, birds face many threats in Malta, which make breeding and migration difficult. These birds suffer from habitat destruction, human disturbance, intensive agriculture, hunting, and trapping. 

This is why we are focusing on increasing the amount of suitable breeding habitats for our birds in Malta. Last year, we implemented a project with the specific aim to raise public awareness of Malta’s breeding birds, to improve habitat for breeding birds, and to record breeding birds and their young through bird ringing. As Malta is a highly urbanised country, raising awareness amongst the public is vital in helping us create homes for the birds. A variety of public engagement and citizen-science activities have been implemented including getting children and young adults involved in practical conservation by building nest boxes, a bird ringing event held on Comino, and a photography workshop at Għadira, to name a few.

Spotted Flycatcher nest box
Spotted Flycatcher nest box

As part of the project, we have created nest box guidelines for children to encourage them to build their own nest boxes together with their parents or another responsible adult. Nest boxes can be built for four species: Tree Sparrow (Ġaħġaħ), Spotted Flycatcher (Żanżarell tat-Tikek), Common Swift (Rundun), and Barn Swallow (Ħuttafa) and each guideline also includes information about the species and how to maintain the nest box in your garden, terrace, or balcony. 

In order to create as many viable breeding spaces for birds as possible, you can build and install your own nest boxes at your home – creating a new home and habitat for a wild bird family to move in as your neighbours. For children, it is a great way to learn about nature as well as improving basic woodworking skills, apart from being a fun bonding activity to do as a family.  

With spring now at its peak, this is the perfect time to start building. Share your results with us – we are very curious to see your nest boxes and even more curious to find out if a family has moved in happily. 

Read more about BirdLife Malta’s project, which is funded under the Conservation of Wild Birds Funding Scheme, here. To learn more about building nest boxes, check out the guidelines we prepared here.  

By Steph Leow, BirdLife Malta Conservation Assistant