A good year so far for Malta’s breeding birds!

June 25, 2019 9:27 am

2019 has been a good year for breeding birds in Malta so far with a number of different species recorded breeding successfully both at BirdLife Malta’s nature reserves and also in different areas around the Maltese Islands.

Breeding birds at our reserves
Our reserves provide vital habitats offering not only rich food sources for breeding birds and their young, but also shelter and protection from habitat destruction and human disturbance. 

Young Black-winged Stilts (Photo by Aron Tanti)

At Għadira Nature Reserve, undoubtedly the flagship breeding species remains the Black-winged Stilt. Earlier this month two pairs of Black-winged Stilts successfully hatched four young each and the adult birds could be observed protecting their fledglings in their distinct way of chasing any other birds they deem as a threat to their chicks, even those much bigger in size! These elegant birds have been breeding – on and off – at our Mellieħa reserve, for the last nine years since 2011. After missing last year’s spring, this year’s double success with eight healthy chicks is is a welcome relief.

Għadira has also been home to another continuing success with Little Ringed Plovers. Two pairs have successfully bred this spring, each of them raising three young respectively. More chicks are expected with a second clutch of eggs currently under incubation. Little Ringed Plovers first bred at Għadira in 1995.

Special open day at Għadira Nature Reserve for the public this coming Saturday to see the newly-hatched Black-winged Stilts

Whilst our nature reserves are normally closed to the public in the otherwise quiet summer months, BirdLife Malta feels that it should share the wonderful nature spectacle of these newly-formed families during a special open day, to be be held this coming Saturday 29 June 2019. Ghadira will be open between 07:00 and 10:00 with entry free of charge and no booking needed. BirdLife Malta staff will be on site to explain about the species breeding at the reserve and show the public around the reserve.

Little Ringed Plover fledgling (Photo by Aron Tanti)

The reserves have also hosted other bird families over the past weeks and months which included nests of Sardinian and Cetti’s Warblers, Moorhens, Tree Sparrows and Collared Doves.

Salina Nature Reserve, which is still undergoing restoration works after it was handed over to BirdLife Malta, has seen a pair of Moorhens that nested twice successfully as early as January. Tree Sparrows and Spanish Sparrows have readily taken the salt pan walls and available nest boxes, while the reserve also hosted its fair share of warblers: Sardinian, Cetti’s Warbler, and Zitting Cisticola.

Birds of prey recorded on all three main islands
2019 has also seen some remarkable records for breeding birds of prey on all three main islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino), showing the great potential our islands could offer for the comeback of a number of graceful species.

Young Common Kestrels (Photo by Denis Cachia)

The Peregrine Falcon has been noted breeding again along Malta’s southern cliffs with young birds seen in flight in mid-May.

Common Kestrels have also bred in two different locations in Gozo, with fledged young being noted during the first week of June.

A pair of Short-eared Owl bred successfully again on Comino with the fledged young seen on the 14th of May, in what is a successful second breeding record in recent years.  

Other birds making records
The Barn Swallow has this year had a record breeding success on Gozo where our birdwatchers have observed at least 32 breeding pairs in different villages, all of which are being monitored on a regular basis. The breeding sites are in Xewkija, Ta’ Kerċem, Għarb, Ta’ Sannat, Għasri, Nadur and Victoria.

Another important successful breeding attempt recorded this year was that of a female Spotless Starling with a male Common Starling (Sturnell) that chose Comino as their home. Spotless Starling is a rare bird on the Maltese Islands with the last record being a bird sighted in October 1947!

Barn Swallows in Gozo (Photo by Adin Vella)

Various birds associated with water bodies have also made the most of this year’s abundant rainfall – Għajn Riħana and Chadwick Lakes have seen good numbers of Reed Warblers and Moorhens showing a dire need for protection of these rich biodiverse areas which are still impacted by hunting. If designated as bird sanctuaries, these areas could offer further breeding successes such as Little Bittern and other crakes.

All these sightings and records represent a lot of hard work carried out by field ornithologists and birders from BirdLife Malta that spend many hours in the field taking notes of such discoveries.

Nature takes its course if it is undisturbed
Commenting on this year’s breeding season, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara stated that wherever left undisturbed, nature takes its course, and these breeding records are testimony to that. He added that proper management of Natura 2000 sites (such as through allocating the management of such sites to NGOs), the designation of bird sanctuaries where no hunting is allowed, and proper law enforcement of hunting illegalities remain key to allowing such successes to be repeated in future years. Nonetheless education and awareness among the public remain essential to appreciate these successes.

A female Spotless Starling (picture) and a male Common Starling successfully formed a family together on Comino this year (Photo by Ray Galea)

On the same lines, BirdLife Malta Nature Reserves Manager Mark Gauci commented that all this goes to demonstrate that given the right habitat and given adequate protection, birds will breed in Malta and the nature reserves managed by BirdLife Malta have been proving this year in year out. “We look forward to continuing our work on management and habitat restoration in a bid to attract more breeding species to the Maltese Islands,” he concluded.

Breeding success rates can only be boosted if the government truly understands what conservation values really stand for. The most logical way in which to ensure birds continue to breed unhindered in Malta, and to increase their numbers, is to safeguard their breeding habitats and to make sure that they are protected during the breeding season. Decisions such as the one which the Government took recently in regard to the Wild Rabbit hunting provisions only serve to directly interfere on this process since the rabbit hunting season coincides directly with the breeding season of birds. Rabbit hunting between June and August should only be allowed with the use of hunting dogs and ferret, and not with shotguns.

Birds such as Common and Pallid Swifts, Collared and Turtle Doves, Moorhens, Quail and other big birds like Common Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons can all be affected by any trigger-happy hunter that is permitted to roam the countryside freely targeting these protected birds disguised as a rabbit hunter.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.