Flock of rare Short-toed Eagles visits Malta, most of them believed shot dead

November 4, 2019 5:25 pm

On Saturday evening a flock of around 15 rare Short-toed Eagles was spotted coming in and flying rather low by members of BirdLife Malta. Many of the birds were observed settling in the outskirts of Siġġiewi and Rabat for the night. It is not common for eagles to cross the sea during migrations and therefore our islands serve them as a respite if they happen to do so. Unfortunately, though, it has now become common that these magnificent birds are met with shotguns aimed at them.

Short-toed Eagle at Buskett (Archive photo by Aron Tanti)

BirdLife Malta members in fact witnessed one of the Short-toed Eagles being shot down at Girgenti and police from the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit were called in immediately, with a search in the area being effected. In the meantime, the other birds scattered in the vicinity trying to find a place to roost. Various shots were heard during and after sunset, and all areas where the birds roosted had intense hunting going on at the time of the roosts. Investigations, however, have not led to anyone being convicted or any carcass being retrieved.

One of the Short-toed Eagles that had visited Malta in 2016 (Photo by Aron Tanti)

The following morning at 5:00am teams of BirdLife Malta volunteers and staff stationed themselves in the area to monitor the birds leaving the roosts. However, their worst fears that the birds might have all been shot before they actually managed to roost were confirmed when only one bird was seen leaving Buskett at around 6:30am. The bird was later sighted in the north of Malta. There was no other trace of the other birds anywhere in spite of the fact that the morning watch organised by BirdLife Malta continued. Most of them are believed to have been shot dead.

Such rare occasions when eagles arrived in the past were also met with incidents of illegal hunting. The most recent previous record goes back to the start of November 2016 when around 60 Booted and Short-toed Eagles were targeted by hunters in multiple incidents. One incident at Tal-Virtù of a Booted Eagle being shot down had been filmed by BirdLife Malta and this had led to a hunter being jailed and fined. The case is now on appeal. In another massacre three years earlier, on the 23rd October 2013, around 50 eagles (Short-toed, Booted and Lesser Spotted) migrating over Buskett also met the same fate. In this case 12 of the protected birds had been confirmed shot with many more witnessed being targeted by hunters.

Short-toed Eagle (Photo by Noel Camilleri)

Once again the feeling that hunters can get away with shooting highly protected birds is leaving a disastrous result year after year. This is why, also year after year, BirdLife Malta and other eNGOs have been calling for a Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the Malta Police Force which would be equipped with resources and expertise to focus solely on wildlife crime. Once again we call on the Government of Malta to heed our call to set up this unit at the earliest, and also to make sure that it is equipped with the right tools to hinder any hunter that thinks he is above the law.

In the meantime, anyone wanting to contact BirdLife Malta even anonymously with information about the possible hunters that could have in their possession any of the protected Short-toed Eagles shot down this weekend, can do so on 7925 5697. We are also asking members of the public to join us by becoming members – this would strengthen our voice when asking for nature protection in Malta and Gozo: http://bit.ly/join-BirdLifeMalta.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

A video edit with footage of the only Short-toed Eagle from a flock of around 15 which was witnessed leaving the roost at Buskett