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Europe and Central Asia
27 Aug 2015

Protecting the Mediterranean’s migratory birds

A Blackcap caught in a mistnet in Cyprus. Photo: Claire Thompson/BirdLife International
By Claire Thompson

Twice a year, an instinctive urge drives hundreds of millions of birds to undertake incredible journeys between their breeding sites in temperate and Arctic zones in northern Europe and Asia, and winter in warmer regions like western and southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

As if the thousands of kilometres-long journey wasn’t an unbelievable feat on its own, the birds face two natural hurdles along the Africa-Eurasia Flyway: the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert. Even if they manage to cross those, many succumb to man-made dangers.

What man-made dangers?

An electrocuted snake eagle in Macedonia. Photo: MEPSO

In the first-ever assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing in the Mediterranean by BirdLife International, it was found that 12-36 million birds per year, mainly songbirds, may be killed illegally by shooters and trappers.

Other serious threats to migratory birds come from power lines and wind turbines (which lead to collisions and electrocutions), and from the loss and degradation of crucial feeding and resting sites. Species such as European Turtle-dove, Black-tailed Godwit and Meadow Pipit are disappearing. And with climate change predicted to increase desertification in the Sahel region of Africa, trans-Saharan migrants will increasingly struggle to survive.

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So what is the plan?

BirdLife and its national Partner organisations have developed a strategy for the African-Eurasian flyway to give migratory birds a better future by 2020 and to stimulate the study and awareness of the magnitude and beauty of migratory birds.

Part of that flyway strategy is the development by BirdLife  of a growing network of people and organisations that can share expertise and coordinate Mediterranean-wide initiatives to look after our avian Mediterranean migratory guests. The Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean, funded by the MAVA Foundation, initiative is establishing a Mediterranean Flyway Conservation Network involving over 20 NGOs.

In its second phase (2015-2017), also funded by MAVA, the project will strengthen a dynamic NGO network to work with local people, governments, and the international community. 

Is something already being done?

Conservation action is already underway in certain countries as part of the project.

A presentation in a school about illegal trapping and bird migration in Cyprus. Photo: BirdLife Cyprus

BirdLife Cyprus is lobbying the government to endorse the first national plan put together by all stakeholders to end illegal trapping of songbirds. “We are a little island besieged by illegal trappers, so to know you are not alone is really important,” says Martin Hellicar, research coordinator at BirdLife Cyprus.

Volunteers at Sasko Lake in Montenegro. Photo: CZIP

In Montenegro, hunting bans have been secured for two important stop-over sites for migrants in the Balkans: Sasko Lake and Ulcinj Salina by CZIP (BirdLife in Montenergo).

In Croatia, Association BIOM lobbied against the development of an airport on the feeding ground of the only Lesser Kestrel colony in Croatia, leading the local politicians to abandon the idea.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon is implementing a responsible hunting training course for people wanting to acquire the national hunting license. The organization is also piloting “Responsible Hunting Areas” in the country to promote regulated and sustainable hunting.

AAO marked World Migratory Birds Day 2015 with a bird walk in the El Haouaria mountains. Photo: Hichem Azafzaf/AAO

BirdLife’s Tunisian Partner, Association Les Amis des Oiseaux, celebrated World Migratory Bird Day under the theme “Energy – make it bird friendly”.

In Macedonia, the Macedonian Ecological Society is developing a film to promote migratory bird conservation.

The Maltese witnessed a historic referendum in April 2015 to abolish spring hunting, during which BirdLife Malta and a coalition of NGOs led a national anti-spring hunting campaign. Although the referendum against hunting was lost by less than 1%, it demonstrated that almost half the population wish to see spring hunting stopped. 

BirdLife is also raising national and international awareness of the illegal killing of birds through a Pan-Mediterranean scientific review and report – funded by an anonymous donor – of its scope and scale at the British Birdwatching Fair in August.   

“Migratory bird conservation requires the power of many strong, creative, sustainable national NGOs. This is the BirdLife Partnership’s strength and we are already getting results,” says Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife’s director of partnership and regions.

Support BirdLife's Keeping the Flyway Safe appeal by donating here.

Our work to tackle illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean is supported by the MAVA Foundation. Created in 1994, MAVA's mission is to engage in strong partnerships to conserve biodiversity for future generations.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.