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Bird Guards discover 41 illegal Quail lures

Ortolan Bunting trapper near Bahrija exposed

Ortolan Bunting seized by the policeOrtolan Bunting seized by the policeXemxija. Although only 23 hunters have officially been issued with a licence for the spring hunting of Turtle Dove and Common Quail, the German-based bird conservation organisation Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) report that so-called electronic Quail lures can be heard calling throughout the night on Malta.

During the past two nights, in the run-up to the planned opening of the limited spring hunting season on Saturday, CABS teams have located and mapped more than 41 of these illegal devices on Malta. The locations of the devices found were at Ghar Lapsi, Gnejna Bay, Ta´ Baldu, Ix-Xaghra I-Hamra, Hal-Qdieri, Salinas as well as the areas around Zurrieq, Qrendi, Siggiewi, Dingli, Bahrija, Naxxar, Birzebbuga, Ghaxaq, Madliena and the Red Tower.

In the course of their systematic search operation the Bird Guards checked about one third of the island on Friday and Saturday nights. CABS estimate therefore that on the whole of Malta more than 100 calling devices are currently in operation.

According to CABS, these bird callers are permanently installed devices with which hunters and trappers play the display calls of the Common Quail [pick-wer-wick] in order to attract the live birds on passage. CABS Operations Officer Axel Hirschfeld states: “These devices play the same call over and over again and are easy to tell apart from their real counterparts.”

According to CABS, as Common Quail migrate only at night, the devices are fitted with a timer programmed to be active between midnight and dawn.

The operation of artificial decoys for hunting is banned under the EU bird protection guidelines, as well as by Maltese law.

Axel Hirschfeld states: “In the early hours of Friday morning, as our teams heard the first caller in Gnejna Bay at about 3.30 am, we immediately informed the police. Two motorised patrols from Mosta arrived within 20 minutes“. Unfortunately, according to CABS, the officers refused to seize the devices in the dark. The senior officer present justified this on the ground that one of his officers might “fall into a well” or indeed “be shot”. “The latter fear is a sad reflection of the current aggression, as witnessed in the many violent incidents reported by BirdLife Malta before the arrival of the CABS teams”, Mr. Hirschfeld added.

Tape lure in use on Malta to attract migrating quailsTape lure in use on Malta to attract migrating quailsThe Committee has therefore today requested the assistance of the A.L.E. in removing the illegal electronic lures during night operations.

The CABS spring migration team on Malta consists of 6 Bird Guards. Their tasks are to record cases of illegal trapping and shooting of protected bird species and to report offenders to the police. The operations are conducted in close cooperation with Birdlife Malta.

On Thursday morning the activists observed a bird trapper operating two clap nets on an installation on the coast near Bahrija. He had set out a dozen live decoys for trapping of Ortolan Buntings. As the police, alerted by the CABS team, approached the site, the man gathered in the cages with the decoy buntings and hid them in a hut secured by a heavy steel door. This initially prevented the officers from seizing them. Whether or not the officers were able to confiscate the birds later is not yet known.

Ortolan Buntings are gravely endangered throughout the EU and are considered to be a ‘species of conservation concern’.