Spring has sprung across the Maltese islands, and with the season come the first signs of migration, offering the perfect opportunity for families to observe the beauty of nature and the great outdoors.
The past weeks have brought exciting sightings of a Great Crested Grebe at Manoel Island, Hoopoes and House Martins, as well as the first birds of prey such as Marsh Harriers.
Last weekend’s full moon also marked a peak time to observe duck migration, with Ferruginous Ducks, Garganeys, Pintails, Shovelers, Common Shelducks, Eurasian Teals and Wigeons all spotted, with many keen birdwatchers gathering at Ċirkewwa to watch their movements over the Malta-Gozo channel.
There have also been sightings of herons, egrets and waders such as Black-tailed Godwits, Common Sandpipers, Common Redshanks.
Although the channel acts as a bottleneck for migration for all the duck species mentioned, it is of particular importance for the Ferruginous Duck – a ‘near-threatened’ bird. In fact, one of the reasons why this stretch of sea between the islands was designated as a marine Special Protection Area (SPA) and also Malta’s first marine Important Bird Area (IBA) is because a critical number of these ducks are seen passing through at this time of the year.
Most notably, Common Cranes and Glossy Ibises – irregular visitors to the Maltese Islands – have also already been spotted.
Springtime, however, also marks the opening of the spring hunting season, which opened on March 25 and will end on April 14. This year, only hunting for quail will be permitted due to a moratorium on the hunting of turtle dove.
Spring migration occurs between mid-March and the end of May when birds leave their wintering grounds in Africa to travel back to Europe to breed. It is the birds’ instinct that as soon as this beautiful time of year arrives they start to build up fat and change plumage to enable them to start their long migratory trip.
During this mammoth migration, birds face many obstacles, including the arduous journey over the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, making the Maltese islands a crucial stop-over point on the migration route for these birds to seek refuge and rest before continuing further north.
It is for this reason that spring hunting is both unacceptable and unsustainable as it targets birds that are en route to their breeding grounds. Birdlife Malta will continue to reiterate that there is no justification for this.
In the coming weeks, Malta is likely to witness many more amazing species on their migration and, with any luck, some rarities. So if you have some spare time, try to see what you can spot in the skies and appreciate the important role Malta plays in bird migration.
Nathaniel Attard is Birdlife Malta communications manager.
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