The hunting season is now closed.

Spring hunting, only for Common Quail, this year was permitted between the 10th and the 30th of April 2019 (both dates included) from two hours before sunrise till 12pm every day of the season. The national season quota was set at 5,000 Quail. Both the daily quota and the individual season quota were removed. A total of 7,647 hunters applied for the hunting licence (6,395 registered hunters in Malta and 1,252 in Gozo).

Although in 2019 spring hunting was supposedly permitted only for Quail, the chosen dates for the season were purposely designed to overlap with the peak migration of the Turtle Dove. Despite being a protected species that is red-listed by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction and currently exempt from spring hunting by a moratorium, the extension of the season further towards the end of April put migrating Turtle Doves at enormous risk from illegal hunting.

Turtle Dove (left) and Quail: two very different species which cannot be mistaken one for the other

BirdLife Malta monitored the hunting season with the aim of reporting and documenting the killing of protected species, especially the Turtle Dove.

To help in our efforts, we raised awareness amongst the public on how to identify and report any illegal hunting and so designed a video to explain all one needs to know about the very evident differences between the two species.

The video describes the very different characteristics of the Quail and the Turtle Dove, which are quite distinguishable and cannot really be mistaken one for the other as they vary in:

  • Appearance
  • Call
  • Flight patterns
  • Hunting methods
  • Luring methods.

Click on the tab below and have a look at the video guide (ENG and MLT versions) we prepared to make it easier for the public to report if they are aware that illegal spring hunting was taking place. This video will help you recognise which of these birds is being hunted and enable you to identify any illegal hunting taking place.

We call on the public to continue to monitor illegalities even though the hunting season in Malta is now closed.

Quail vs Turtle Dove

The Quail & the Turtle Dove: the four main differences you need to know

1. Difference in appearance

These two species are drastically different in appearance, both in size and colour. Their call is also very different.

 2. Difference in flight patterns

The way they fly is one huge factor that makes it unmistakable. Whilst Quail migrate at night and hide in vegetation during the day, Turtle Doves arrive early in the morning, normally settling in trees.

3. Difference in hunting methods

Due to Quail and Turtle Doves differing in flight habits, different hunting methods have to be adopted for each. If you see a hunter in a hide aiming for the skies he will not be hunting Quail, which is the only huntable species this spring and is hunted on the ground. So he will probably be breaking the law!

4. Difference in luring methods

The only method that is used to lure Quail is by using live decoys in cages placed in fields – electronic callers are illegal. For Turtle Doves, live or plastic decoys are normally used close to hunting hides or hoisted up on trees or electric wires.

Laws & reporting

The hunting season is now closed. This year’s spring hunting season ran between the 10th and the 30th of April 2019. If you still witness any illegalities during the closed season, these should be reported immediately to the police on 119, asking to be transferred through to the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit. Please then report to BirdLife Malta on 2134 7645/6 or on the emergency (out of office hours) number 7925 5697.

Want to know what was permitted or illegal during the spring hunting season? Download our guidance sheet in Maltese or English for the spring hunting season. If you need any extra help, download our step-by-step guide in Maltese or English on how to report illegal hunting to the police.

Illegal hunting

Every spring and autumn, Malta becomes a vital stepping stone for birds using this migratory route to move between European breeding and African wintering grounds and the islands act as a place to rest and regain fat supplies before continuing on these long and taxing journeys. Due to its strategic location on this key migration route, Malta has a long and impressive species list, totaling 389 species that have been recorded. Of these, over 170 occur with regularity on migration, in many cases in significant numbers.

Scientific ringing studies carried out by BirdLife Malta since the 1960s have shown that birds from at least 48 countries use Malta during migration. Malta also has an exceptionally high density of hunters and per square kilometre has the densest population of hunters in the European Union. Illegal hunting is a widespread and serious problem, with poachers specifically targeting raptors (birds of prey) and Herons as well as rare migratory birds such as  the Greater Flamingo, Black Stork and Eurasian Spoonbill, among others. This persecution reaches its peak during migration periods.

Furthermore, illegal hunting continues throughout the year and it is primarily due to this intense persecution that Malta has the dubious distinction of being the only country in Europe and the Mediterranean with no regularly breeding birds of prey. Species such as the Barn Owl and the Eurasian Jackdaw have become locally extinct with the last breeding pairs known to have been shot by hunters. Since 2007, BirdLife Malta has been keeping a centralised database on illegal hunting and trapping incidents witnessed by BirdLife Malta staff, ornithologists, volunteers and members of the public known to the organisation. Other reports from unknown individuals and hearsay reports are not included in this database. An analysis of the database is published annually.