Despite the continuous decline of European Turtle Dove and Quail populations, thousands of birds are still hunted each year in our country, both in autumn and spring. Although hunting in autumn does not represent a major concern for these species, spring hunting does. Hunting these birds in spring while they’re on their way to their breeding grounds to reproduce will result in not only killing the individual birds but of course their offspring. Furthermore, a bird will reproduce every year, say for at least 5 years and hence the number of un-born chicks is multiplied. This results in the destruction of a whole generation and hence a decline in population.
The European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) may be legally hunted in autumn in 8 EU countries, including Malta. An estimated two to four million birds are shot yearly. However, Malta is the only country in the EU which applies for a derogation to hunt this species in spring. The issue of hunting this bird in spring is that the European Turtle Dove has an unfavourable conservation status. Turtle Doves have declined drastically since the 1970s, with population declines as high as 70%. Reasons for this decline are disturbance of breeding habitats, mainly through agricultural intensification, climate change and hunting.
Many may think that spring hunting only affects these 2 species which may be hunted, i.e. the Turtle Dove and the Common Quail. However, this is not the case. The impacts on other bird species are also very significant. Apart from the illegal killing of protected birds, hunting in spring also causes significant impacts on several bird species. Other bird species are in fact not breeding in Malta simply because they are either being killed or because they are scared away by the continuous shooting. The logic of not allowing hunting in spring is crystal clear.
In spring Malta experiences a spectacular and intense period of bird migration. Several bird species fill our skies and circle over our countryside. These birds range from passerines to birds of prey. Many migratory birds do not only migrate over Malta, but some also tend to breed.
Unfortunately, when Turtle Doves and Quails arrive in Malta, it is almost impossible for them to attempt to breed, since they are shot. Other birds attempting to breed will also fail to do so, since they are either illegally shot or disturbed due to shooting.
Several birds were noted breeding on our island over the years. However, many either declined or have been eradicated as breeding birds of Malta, such as the Barn Owl, which was described as a scarce breeder in the 1970s, until the last breeding pair was shot in 1988. Other birds such as the Common Kestrel and the Peregrine Falcon, also known as the Maltese Falcon, are both migratory species. However, in most years they often try to seek a nesting site, and in some cases they actually manage to do so. Unfortunately, these are often shot in spring.
An interesting fact to note is that when spring hunting was prohibited in 2008 and 2009, several birds started breeding again or attempted to breed. These birds include the Common Cuckoo as well as Common and Pallid Swifts, along with many other birds, which bred in Malta when they were not shot or disturbed.
Malta could host many more breeding birds, were it not for the unsustainable spring hunting season. Typical Mediterranean birds such as the Bee-eater would definitely breed if we allowed them to do so. Also more records of birds which are common throughout other European countries such as the Barn Swallow will also increase. Most birds are not afraid of human presence but are only afraid of people who kill them.
Both the Turtle Dove and Common Quail have experienced drastic declines over the last decades. It is therefore vital to protect these species, especially during the most crucial time of the year, when they are on their way to breed. Spring hunting is not sustainable and its effects on other birds such as breeding birds is also important to consider. It is therefore of great importance that this practice no longer takes place in spring, in order to protect Turtle Doves and Quails and in order to give breeding birds a chance to seek a nesting site and successfully raise their young.
Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ