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Hunters in Malta shoot rare spoonbills

Low flying spoonbills reaching the Maltese coastline (Photo: BirdLife Malta)Hunters in Malta illegally shot at three flocks of migrating birds seeking shelter during stormy weather over the weekend. With winds of gale force 8 and torrential rain the birds, numbering about 70 in total, were trying to find shelter along the south east coast of Malta.

Reports reached the offices of various local NGOs, including International Animal Rescue and BirdLife Malta, that illegal hunters were targeting the birds. IAR's office in Malta was told that vehicles with hunters in them were following the birds which were flying very low along the coast seeking roost sites.

The reports confirmed that rare spoonbills had been illegally shot and two of them were killed in the Delimara area. Sources close to the ALE police department which is responsible for wildlife protection said that their office was flooded with reports and they immediately sent patrol cars into the area. Fieldworkers sent to the area heard more than 25 shots from St Thomas Bay and several more from Delimara, where a team was told that the ALE had confiscated a shotgun.

Hunter illegally shooting spoonbills from a residential area (Photo: BirdLife Malta)A passerby took some photos of a hunter in a residential street in Marsascala shooting at the spoonbills. The photos were sent to BirdLife and they passed them on to the police for further investigation. Along the coastline of Marsascala and St Thomas bay in the south of Malta a considerable number of shots were heard. One resident in the area said that he heard more than 15 shots. Out of 11 birds only five managed to continue their migratory voyage safely. Birdwatchers reported that they saw a sixth bird trying to keep flying with one of its legs dangling after it had been shot.

The illegal shooting which started late on Saturday afternoon while the birds where trying to shelter from the gale continued the following morning before the spoonbills left their roosting area to continue their journey.

The hunters' activity was completely illegal: they were shooting at protected species during the closed season on migration to their breeding grounds. The spoonbill is regarded as a very rare species in Europe and is listed under Annex 1 of the Bird Directive.

In a statement issued after the incident the Maltese hunting federation (FKNK) condemned the illegal shooting and vowed to cancel the membership of any hunter found guilty by a court of shooting at the spoonbills. In order to get a licence to carry a shotgun for hunting purposes a person must supply evidence that he is a member of one of the hunting associations in Malta which defends hunting and trapping.

The spoonbill is a regular visitor to the Maltese Islands but fairly scarce. This impressive large white bird gets its name from the spoon-like tip of its long bill, which it uses to catch its aquatic prey from shallow lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.