At this time of the year, the chicks of one of Malta’s breeding seabirds – the Yelkouan Shearwater – are leaving their nests to head out for the open sea, under the cover of darkness. However, this first journey for these birds can be dangerous. Light pollution from our towns and villages causes many young birds on their first flight to sea to become grounded on land. BirdLife Malta is calling on the public to help rescue these birds. Without your help, they will never get back to the sea again.
Light pollution is only one of the many difficulties these elusive seabirds face. BirdLife Malta’s ongoing LIFE PanPuffinus! project is focusing on two other main threats this threatened seabird species faces; namely accidental bycatch in fishing gear and predation by invasive species. The project is studying two shearwater species which are endemic to the Mediterranean: the Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan, Garnija) and the Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus, Garnija Balearika). Only the former breeds in Malta.
BirdLife Malta asks for the public’s assistance in rescuing young seabirds left grounded by light pollution
Young Yelkouan Shearwaters are raised over two long months in dark underground burrows found in the cliffs of the Maltese Islands. They are the only chick that their parents raise that year, a reflection of the large parental investment that all shearwater species make. One night in June or July, when the chick is strong enough, it will leave its underground burrow and head for the sea, taking its fledging flight into the dark night air.
Unfortunately, this flight can be cut short. Some fledglings are drawn to the artificial lights along our coastline. They fly over these lights to the point of exhaustion or collide with structures in their path. Once on the ground, they are at high risk of being killed by cats or dogs, may be hit by vehicles or succumb to dehydration and starvation. These tired, injured birds are unable to make their own way back to the sea and will die on land without your help.
Throughout July, anyone in a coastal town or village can help locate and rescue stranded Yelkouan Shearwaters. Should you find one, please follow these guidelines:
- Call BirdLife Malta on 2134 7645/6 (office hours)/7925 5697 (evenings and weekends) or the police on 119 in the first instance;
- Record the location you found the bird as accurately as possible;
- Approach the bird from behind. Pick up the bird using a clean cloth or towel, controlling the head and holding the wings against the body;
- Place the bird in a well-ventilated cardboard box. Keep the box in a cool dark place;
- If possible, provide fresh water for the bird in a deep container. When the box is stationary, leave the container with water with the bird so that it can drink as needed. Do not attempt to rehydrate the bird yourself;
- Do not attempt to feed the bird.
All recovered birds will be looked at by a government vet and taken into a rehabilitation programme. Once they are back to full health they are released at safe locations or out to sea. Birds are also ringed before being released so that this information contributes to further biological data on the species. More stranded birds are found every year thanks to the assistance of the public.
You can also help by reducing glare from external outdoor light harmful to seabirds and other wildlife. If you have outdoor lighting, pointing light fixtures downwards so that light is focused only on the area necessary, using light bulbs of a warm yellow light (less than 3,000 kelvin) and using curtains, are three easy ways to have a positive impact. Visit BirdLife Malta’s illustrated guidelines for ecologically responsible lighting for more information.
Thank you for helping us rescue stranded seabirds!
Read the Maltese version of the press release here. You can also watch this video about the impact of light pollution on Malta’s breeding seabirds (produced for our previous LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project).