Europe and Central Asia
28 Jun 2018

Help disoriented Yelkouan Shearwater fledglings!

Photo: Victor Paris
By Nathaniel Attard, BirdLife Malta

At this time of year, young Yelkouan Shearwaters leave their nests at night to train their wings around the cliffs where they breed. After several nights they then fledge from their remote cliff-side locations for the first time, using the light of the horizon to guide them. However, bright coastal lights can leave these young seabirds disoriented,  increasing their chances of becoming stranded inland on roads, seafronts, ports, towns, and other urbanised areas. Once they are stranded they are unable to fly back out to sea – where they spend the majority of their lives - putting their survival in danger.

Malta is home to up to 10% of the global population of Yelkouan Shearwaters, equal to around 2,000 breeding pairs found in various sites across the Maltese Islands. Despite this, the species population is in decline, with one of the main threats being light pollution. Buġibba, Qawra, Mellieħa, Salina, and Ċirkewwa are the main sources of light pollution for the Yelkouan Shearwater colonies of St. Paul’s Island, Comino and Rdum tal-Madonna (L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa) - Malta’s biggest colony.

BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project is working to reduce the impact of light pollution close to the colonies to ensure this seabird’s long-term protection. We have recorded an increase in the number of stranded birds rescued in past years especially during the first three years that our LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project has been running. This is a consequence of the increase in lights from development but also the result of an increase in awareness thanks to the efforts of BirdLife Malta and the public to rescue stranded seabirds. It is only with the support of the public who report the stranding of young seabird chicks that BirdLife Malta is able to rescue and release them back into safe locations at night, allowing them to continue with their journey at sea.

If you are in Malta and are walking along the seafronts and the coast of Buġibba, Qawra, Mellieħa, Salina, Ċirkewwa and other similar areas late at night or early in the morning and you find a stranded Yelkouan Shearwater, please call BirdLife Malta immediately and gently place the bird in a cardboard box in a dark area until it can be collected. Do not provide food or water to the bird. BirdLife Malta will check the health of the bird and release it in a safe location as soon as possible.


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