Bird trapping on Malta
A tradition in transition
Finch trapping has been forbidden since the end of 2008. Bird trapping is a form of national sport on Malta and Gozo. In contrast to most of the other trapping areas in the Mediterranean however, the song birds caught do not end up in the pot but are kept as cage birds in the living rooms of supposedly ‘bird lovers’. Every Sunday a large bird market, which even gets a mention in tourist guides, is held in Malta’s capital Valletta.
Until Malta’s accession to the EU in 2004, bird trapping was permitted as a normal activity. Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin and Linnet were legally trapped from September to 10th of April in huge clap net installations using live decoy birds. There were about 3,000 active bird trappers, accounting for an estimated 100,000 trapped birds annually (at least) - although there are no published figures.
The accession of Malta to the European Union in 2004 spelt an end to legal bird trapping. Nonetheless, Maltese politicians were able to negotiate a generous transition period. With Brussels’ assent the trapping of 8 finch species was permitted until 31.12.2008. During the interim period the future cage bird requirement would be met by a breeding programme which was to be introduced. In addition the trapping season was cut short from 2005 onwards to end on 31st January annually.
Since the agreement with the Commission the Maltese Government has stuck to its part of the bargain and has not given in so far to the immense pressure from the trappers and hunting associations. Song bird trapping has been banned on Malta from 01.01.2009. Sadly the trapping of birds to serve as decoys for hunting of Song Thrush, Quail, Turtle Dove and Golden Plover continues to be permitted, as these birds, in contrast to the finch species, are still huntable in the EU.
In the meantime many trapping sites on Malta have been abandoned (although their ugly scars remain). But not all of them: the hard core trappers do not intend to forgo their tradition that easily. Trapping of the once so desirable finches can be observed here and there; but most of the active illegal trappers have now specialised on new prey. In addition to the Ortolan Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Red-throated Pipit and Short-toed lark, their efforts are focused on above all waders. At dozens of huge trapping installations on the islands, not uncommonly more than 5,000 m² in area and equipped with electronic decoys, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Stint und Temminck's Stint are trapped, as well as Avocet und Black-winged Stilt. As many raids based on CABS intelligence on trapping installations testify, the rarities caught are pinioned (the wind feathers cropped). They are then kept in aviaries as living collectors’ items. It is very probable that there is a not inconsiderable black market for waders trapped in this way.
During its bird protection camps the Committee Against Bird Slaughter deploys specialised teams to combat this new form of organised wildlife crime. These teams locate the trapping sites and gather evidence for the police. We have managed to locate and report more than a dozen such illegal trappers every year - our greatest success was on 16 August 2008 when a trapper was caught red-handed with 72 live waders and protected songbirds.