Bird hunting monitors reported three protected birds illegally shot down yesterday, on the first day of Birdlife’s annual Spring Watch campaign.

Volunteers witnessed and filmed the shooting of a montagu’s harrier at Dwejra lines in the morning, although they were unable to identify the hunter responsible.

The two other shot birds – a common cuckoo in Mosta and a European bee-eater in Baħrija – were discovered by members of the public, a Birdlife spokes­man said.

“Each was a separate incident, and in each case a migrating bird was shot down,” he said. “The montagu’s harrier was shot early in the morning, before the Spring Watch campaign had officially gotten under way.”

While the montagu’s harrier was killed by the shot, both the bee-eater and cuckoo were still alive when they were discovered. While the cuckoo might make it – “an X-ray should determine whether there’s any shrapnel in its body” – the bee-eater was not so lucky.

“Its wing was severely broken,” the Birdlife representative said. “It would never have been able to fly again”. The bird was taken to a vet and put down.

Birdlife’s Spring Watch campaign involves over 40 inter­national volunteers patrolling the Maltese countryside, on the lookout for any signs of illegal hunting, throughout the spring hunting season.

Malta’s spring hunting season opened last week and will last until the end of the month. Hunters must abide by the same rules as in previous years, although they no longer have to pay a €50 licence fee or wear an identification arm band.

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