Watch: ‘Maltese falcon’ shot at Għarb

A juvenile specimen of the Mediterranean subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon – which is also known as the Maltese Falcon – has been shot and injured in Għarb on Monday, BirdLife Malta reported.

The bird was found by a family holidaying in Gozo, which called upon BirdLife Malta to rescue the bird.

As its name suggests, the subspecies is intimately linked to Malta: when the Maltese Islands were leased to the Knights by Emperor Charles V, the price was a the sole payment of a falcon presented every year on the Feast of All Saints.

It was once a common breeding species in Malta, nesting among coastal cliffs, but was hunted to extinction by the 1980s. Since then, it has started to make a slow recovery, with a few breeding pairs settling in remote parts of the Maltese coastline.

BirdLife noted that at this time of year, juvenile falcons would be mastering the skill to hunt other birds on the wings, and lamented that “this particular bird was unfortunate to fall victim to a hunter who was supposedly out hunting rabbits at this time of the year.”

BirdLife condemns rabbit hunting loophole

The hunting of birds is only allowed during the spring and autumn hunting seasons – though the falcon is a strictly protected species. But BirdLife observed that the rabbit hunting season is being exploited by poachers.

The NGO lamented that in 2018, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit changed the regulations specifically to allow hunters to roam everywhere during the rabbit hunting season. Previously, rabbit hunting was only allowed on private land, with the owner’s permission.

“Hunters are using this smokescreen to go out hunting for birds during their breeding season and during the early migration and this was designed to practically extend the hunting season into the summer months too,” it said.

BirdLife observed that since the opening of the rabbit hunting season on 1 June, it has received 9 illegally shot protected birds, bringing the total number of confirmed illegal hunting casualties this year up to 113. This figure is just one short of the record 114 shot birds the NGO received in 2018, and the autumn hunting season is yet to start.

“It is sad to see such a majestic bird which is part of our natural heritage, being cut short of its life as a direct result of legislative and policy changes introduced to appease the hunting lobby,” BirdLife Malta head of conservation Nicholas Barbara said.

“Coastal cliffs should not be hunting grounds for rabbit, and this species is protected at the highest levels in both Maltese and European laws. We even have Natura 2000 sites designated to allow these falcons to make a comeback, yet such hunting concessions continue to undermine their conservation value.”

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said that the shooting of the falcon augured poorly for the coming autumn migration.

“We need the people of Malta and Gozo to show this government that they care about nature and birds and want our natural heritage to be protected and not abused with the blessing of governments who were always spineless towards those that break nature laws and bend over backwards to appease only the hunting lobby as if the rest of society does not exist,” Sultana said.