Spring Hunting In Malta Continues To Threaten Migratory Bird Populations

There are more than 500 species of wild birds in Europe, millions of which make the voyage home after winters spent in warmer latitudes. This trip is hardly safe, with wild weather, predators and exhaustion threatening a successful migration.

And then there are human threats.

On their return to Malta in the spring, thousands of birds are shot by hunters every year.

According to One Green Planet, around 340 bird species use the islands of Malta as stopovers on their long migrations between Europe and Africa. Turtle doves, quail, swifts, yellow-legged gulls, bitterns, kestrels and the rare Montagu’s harrier head to Malta to breed, feed and rest.

The vast majority are protected by law, rare or in serious decline.

An osprey in flight, approaching its nest.
An osprey in flight, approaching its nest.

The Birds Directive is the European Union’s oldest piece of nature legislation, designed to protect wild birds indigenous to the region, recognizing that the wild birds, including migratory birds, are part of Europe’s shared natural heritage. Malta is the only European Union country that allows recreational spring hunting of these birds, and has been alerted to multiple violations in recent decades for misapplications of the Birds Directive.

“Having regard to those very specific circumstances, hunting for quails and turtle doves during the autumn hunting season cannot be regarded as constituting, in Malta, another satisfactory solution, so that the condition that there be no other satisfactory solution, laid down in Article 9(1) of the Directive, should, in principle, be considered met,” the Birds Directive reads.

A marsh harrier on the ground looking for food.
A marsh harrier on the ground looking for food.

This derogation was designed to protect public health and safety, but its misapplication results in the deaths thousands of vulnerable species such as quail and turtle dove which travel through Malta en route to their summer habitats yearly, reports the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation.

Malta is a vital stepping-stone for these birds on their exhausting journey northwards, hence this is not an issue just for Malta – it affects all European nations,” said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International. “Conservationists, citizens, organizations and governments across Europe have invested significant amounts of time and resources in protecting wild birds in their own countries. The fact that the Maltese government allows these birds to be killed during their journey to the breeding grounds is deeply shocking – particularly as this decision ignores the law and all scientific evidence…”

Marsh Harriers stop at Malta in the spring on their return from southern regions.
Marsh Harriers stop at Malta in the spring on their return from southern regions.

More recently, BirdLife Malta teams documented two incidents where hunters shot down protected Turtle-doves, and the same day found a protected Common Cuckoo with gunshot injuries, The Shift reports..

“While there was never a doubt that the spring hunting derogation for Common Quail during the peak migration of Turtle-dove was an intentional smokescreen, the incidents of illegal hunting witnessed with the first signs of Turtle-dove migration mean that the European Commission will not have much choice but to proceed with the legal infringements against this derogation,” the organization said.

The Common Kestrel is a migratory bird.
The Common Kestrel is a migratory bird.

BirdLife Malta said it will be documenting incidents of illegal hunting to submit a report to the European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius for further action.

These vulnerable avian species are protected in other European nations, but inadequate protections in Malta during the spring hunt means they are often targets. Although the European Court of Justice ruled that Malta had repeatedly and illegally allowed spring hunting to take place, the European Commission (EC) is refusing to take action to stop it.

Help us protect the majestic birds of Europe.
Help us protect the majestic birds of Europe.

It’s time to end Malta’s abuse of the Birds Directive. Click below to sign the petition and demand safer skies for migrating birds in Malta!

Protect the Planet

Help preserve vital habitat at The Rainforest Site for free!

Whizzco