Another white stork was shot dead late yesterday morning in Mellieħa, the second confirmed killing of the protected species.

The police arrested a man in connection with the incident in the afternoon. Officers searched the man’s house and the hunter reportedly admitted to shooting the bird, sources said.

More white storks arrived yesterday, joining the original flock spotted earlier in the week. Three storks have disappeared and one was confirmed dead.

Witnesses told Times of Malta hunters also illegally targeted the flock of storks at Tal-Ħandaq, in Qormi, but failed to kill any of the birds, although it is not known whether any were injured.

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) yesterday reported more illegal hunting in Safi and Dingli, where two protected marsh harriers were shot down. They also observed a honey buzzard, another protected species, with severe shotgun injuries close to Buskett Gardens.

The stork killed yesterday was part of a flock of 13 seen for prolonged periods over the Mellieħa area on Thursday. In the evening, they settled in the Pwales area in Xemxija. Some landed at Simar reserve but later flew to the San Martin area where they roosted over farmhouses. On Wednesday, Julian Tanti, 26, of St Julian’s admitted to 15 counts of hunting-related charges including shooting a stork a day earlier. He was barred from owning a licence to carry a firearm for four years, banned for life from hunting and given a suspended jail term.

Killing such a beautiful bird for no reason can only be described as stupid

The first stork killed formed part of a conservation programme in Udine. Another two storks from the Italian centre are known to be among the flock still in Malta, wearing the same coloured rings. They were still alive at the time of writing.

When Times of Malta spoke to the scientific ringer at the Italian stork centre in Udine, Bruno Dentisani said the storks were on their first migration and he was very saddened by the news that one of the birds he helped rear was now dead.

“Killing such a beautiful bird for no reason can only be described as stupid,” he said.

Ornithologist Natalino Fenech said most of these birds were very young, barely three months old, and were undertaking a very perilous journey toward Africa.

“They have to face the elements such as strong wings, rain and, of course, man-made obstacles. Storks are greeted with joy even here. Yet, it appears there are still several who are prepared to shoot them,” Dr Fenech said.

The storks were not the only protected species illegally targeted by hunters.

The Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretariat told Times of Malta another seven protected birds had been sent to them after suffering gunshot wounds since the start of the hunting season.

They included a juvenile flamingo collected by police officers from Sliema last week. It died from its wounds at the government vet’s clinic on Sunday morning.

In a statement on Thursday, the Hunters Federation warned that such a “despicable act” as the killing of a stork could result in government deciding to close the season early.

It made it clear it would “strongly oppose” such a move.

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