The second pallid harrier to be shot in Gozo this week is tomorrow being taken to the Sicilian wildlife rehabilitation center, Centro Recupero Fauna Selvatica, after it was rescued by BirdLife Malta.

 BirdLife said in a statement today that the “near-threatened” pallid harrier, one of Europe’s rarest birds of prey, with as few as 310 pairs left breeding in the continent, is just one of 13 protected bird species that fell victim to illegal hunting in Malta this spring. Others include Montagu’s and marsh harriers, common kestrels, hobbies, bee-eaters, nightjars, cuckoos and owls.

The organisation said it recovered 18 injured or dead protected birds since the start of the season, all of them confirmed by veterinary examination as having been shot.

“This is already almost double the number recovered during last year’s spring hunting season, and there are still three days of the season left,” lamented Chris Debono, BirdLife Malta’s conservation and policy officer.

“It is tragic to see so many protected birds gunned down by indiscriminate poachers, seemingly for no reason but we have at least been able to save a few.”

On Wednesday evening, BirdLife staff successfully released a nightjar at Is-Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija. This intriguing bird is unusual in being nocturnal, feeding on moths and other night-flying insects and sleeping during the day.

 “In theory, nightjars should be less vulnerable to illegal hunting than day-flying birds, but we have seen that many hunters are not respecting the 3pm curfew and have even witnessed incidents of hunters going into fields full of roosting birds of prey and shooting them in their sleep,” Mr Debono said.

BirdLife Malta also refuted the claim made by Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Welfare, Roderick Galdes, that there is no evidence to corroborate reports of widespread illegal hunting and trapping witnessed by Spring Watch volunteers during the spring hunting season.

“Apart from all the shot protected birds we have received, Spring Watch teams have recorded numerous other incidents, including protected birds being shot, illegal trapping and poaching inside nature reserves,” Nicholas Barbara BirdLife Malta’s conservation manager said.

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