Malta has three pairs of breeding peregrine falcons for the first time since 2009, according to two ornithologists who have been monitoring their movements.

“This is really good news and it probably shows that some of the young from earlier broods have returned to breed, as they are breeding close to where they were raised,” Natalino Fenech and Michael Sammut said.

A single pair used to breed in Gozo until the 1980s but the birds were shot, and the peregrine disappeared from the list of Malta’s breeding birds until 2009, when two pairs, one in Malta and another in Gozo, were discovered to be breeding successfully. A third pair was discovered this year.

Apart from monitoring the birds with other dedicated birdwatchers, Dr Fenech and Mr Sammut spoke to hunters in the areas where the birds are breeding to make them aware of the need to save them.

With the help of the hunters’ federation, FKNK, and St Hubert Hunters Association, they spread the word in a bid to ensure the falcons remain unharmed. FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia said the federation had members who hunted in the areas where the peregrines were breeding and who were now also monitoring the birds and watching out for them.

“It is in everyone’s interests that these birds survive and we hope to see more of them breeding here,” Mr Farrugia said.

St Hubert Hunters president Mark Mifsud Bonnici was equally thrilled by the news and said all hunters should be happy that such beautiful protected birds were breeding here and they should be enjoyed by all in their free state.

Dr Fenech and Mr Sammut said all hunters they spoke to were very receptive to the birds’ presence.

“To them it helped prove that not all hunters shoot anything that flies and all of them promised to ward off any intruders and report them to the police, should they know of any. This is all very positive and should be encouraged,” the ornithologists said.

The often-used reference to the peregrine as the ‘Maltese falcon’ is incorrect, as the latter species does not exist

In the meantime, they were jotting down what prey the birds were taking, which included anything from large yellow-legged gulls to small birds such as pipits. The largest source of prey, however, was feral pigeons breeding along the cliffs.

The peregrine is synonymous with Malta because of the deed signed by Charles V when the Knights of St John were granted the Maltese islands in fief and the Knights had to pay the nominal rent of a falcon on All Saints’ Day each year.

The often-used reference to the peregrine as the “Maltese falcon” is incorrect, as the latter species does not exist.

This name was coined in 1941 by the Warner Bros film, which featured Humphrey Bogart as a private detective investigating a case involving three criminals and a liar in their quest for the priceless statuette of a falcon.

The race that breeds in Malta commonly breeds around the Mediterranean.

Perhaps considering the island’s limitations, it would not be a bad idea to consider the falcons breeding here as “Maltese falcons”, as they were truly a priceless part of our cultural heritage, the ornithologists said.

“The return and successful breeding of the peregrine is a good omen indeed, because it is the apex predator in our natural environment,” Dr Fenech and Mr Sammut said.

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