A family of common kestrels spanjulett have bred in Gozo this year, Birdlife said as it released footage of the three chicks, the first to hatch in Malta in four years.

The nest, the location of which was kept secret, was discovered by a resident who became aware of the adult birds flying around the area. The resident alerted Birdlife, whose ornithologists checked and confirmed that the kestrels were breeding.

The nest was then watched over and the resident was able to film the kestrel family; follow the parents as they delivered food to their newly hatched young, and watch the chicks grow and take their first shaky flights away from the nest.  After building up their confidence at flying, the young kestrels left the nest on August 2.

BirdLife Malta conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said the sporadic attempts for common kestrels to breed in Malta over the past years showed that there was hope for this bird of prey to establish itself once again, if not targeted by illegal hunting.

“We hope that this pair and their young will be able to return and breed in peace for years to come,” he said.

Kestrels are small birds of prey with long wings and a long tail, most easily recognised when they are hovering in mid-air, searching for food below.  They are one of the most common birds of prey seen on migration in September and October, and again in spring with a few opting to stay in Malta during the winter months.

Historical records indicate that they were once more common in Malta and Gozo, however, human persecution, mainly illegal hunting, saw their numbers dwindle. After an absence of 15 years, a pair returned to breed in 2009 when spring hunting was banned. They returned again for the following two years until illegal hunting saw them disappear again.

BirdLife Malta made the decision to publicise the successful breeding only after the chicks learned to fly and left the nest, so as not to endanger the birds.

It said that as September approached, there would likely be more kestrels arriving on the islands as they migrated towards Africa for winter.

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