The Annual Bird Massacre on Malta

I know it’s not particularly kosher to criticize a foreign country one doesn’t know a lot about, but I’m making an exception. In every guidebook and article I’ve read about Malta, one criticism always shows up: their rampant and mostly illegal spring bird hunt.

Though it has relatively few native birds, Malta is a stopping point for many species of migratory bird. According to my Lonely Planet, more than 3 million of them are killed or trapped every year. 3 million on islands that have a human population of 400,000. That’s incredibly repulsive to me.

I don’t really understand what the hunters do with the birds they kill and trap? Eat them? Stuff them? Nothing at all? I’m not opposed to sustainable hunting, particularly when the hunters make use of their quarry. Clearly this isn’t sustainable, and clearly it’s mostly (if not entirely) for sport.

I searched around, and couldn’t find any Maltese pro-hunting websites. I found one news article, which described a hunters’ protest getting out of hand. In Canada, most hunters that I’ve met are wilderness enthusiasts and pro-conservation (that’s what Ducks Unlimited is all about, I gather). Apparently that’s not the case on Malta?

I gather the Maltese authorities are disinterested (the hunters are a powerful lobby group) or unable to enfore existing laws. According to this Maltese blogger, the EU is running out of patience:

The House shares the concerns expressed in the report on the fact-finding mission, in particular in respect of the authorisation of spring hunting of resting migratory birds and trapping and illegal hunting of protected species, including in areas protected under Community law. MEPs condemn all types of illegal hunting in all Member States. The EP calls on the Maltese Government and the Commission to publish their full technical positions on the subject.

To me this seems roughly analogous to the ridiculous fox hunts that were recently banned in Great Britain–cruel sport hunts from a bygone era, weakly defended as ‘traditional’. For more information about Malta’s hunting problem, check out Bird Life Malta.

I’m sure some of my assumptions about this issue will prove incorrect–I’ll report back once I’ve lived there for a few months.

29 comments

    1. D.B int iz zobb fox dak il liba ommok int!!! malta tana u muxx tal baranin bhalek mela mur ara fox il razza u radika kolla tijak liba MATHERFACKER DB JIEN MALCOLM MIS SIGGIEW NIXUTJA IL KACCARD U IL BODON FLARJA OK U NIBQA AX DAK DEMMI VIVA KACCATURI MALTIN HEMM NIBQA SA LAHAR QATRA TAD DEMMI…………………………………………….messag wihed al kacctuuri u nassab EJJA HA NINAQDU…EJJA HA NINAQDU IN KISSRU IL KULL MIN JIGI BARRANIN U MALTIN ID DELLIZZJU HEMM HA JABQA GRAZZI THANK YOU

  1. You might be interested in reading “the end of the line” by Charles Clover. I have a copy if you want it. The book talks about the fishing industry and the author describes Europe as being a complete mess.

    Although the book has nothing to do with birds, I suspect that the problem is the same. Europe being such a “political” mess, it’s impossible to impose any rules and regulation. I suspect that there are rules in place to protect wildlife, but no one seems to care. When I lived in France I was amazed to hear how many people got killed by stray bulles every year (from hunteres) and how many bird the Italians shoot.

    It just reinforces my one true belief “people are a nasty piece of work”.

  2. Two “data” points:

    1. In the North America, such behavior was common early last century. Several species, including the passenger pigeon with flocks once numbering in the billions, are now extinct (http://www.galaxynet.com/~corvid/bir/birr_extinct.htm). Habitat loss was a factor, but so was “sport” hunting. The annual Audubon Christmas bird count was established specifically in response to such blatant massacre (http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/history.html).

    You mention “sustainability” and in the North American case (a growing population culling across the whole continent) it obviously wasn’t. But in Malta, a relatively small and static population is culling bird populations as they migrate from one continent to the other. It might not be sustainable because of other hunters and habitat loss on the continents, but you have to admit that’s not the Maltese hunters’ fault (pending further data).

    As you hint at, it’s difficult to criticize the society and culture in which you are (will be) a host. Here in Hawaii, every newcomer is lectured sooner or later about wanting to change some local custom they don’t like. The thing is, once you start to see things from the local point of view it makes sense–though I didn’t say it is justified.

    For example, wild pig/boar hunting is big among some people in Hawaii. It is totally non-traditional in the sense that pre-contact Hawaii didn’t have game animals. But since it developed over the past 200 years, the pig hunting culture is seen as an antidote to the modern way of life. It is now so entrenched among rural population that hunters are protecting this invasive and destructive species against the environmentalists who would love to eradicate it (sadly by eliminating some of the species the enviros are trying to protect).

    Hunting is a touchy subject too, since it seems to have roots in our primeval behavior, which we are often not accomodating in our society. In other words, does hunting substitute for other more reprehensible behaviors or fill some needs not met for certain people by modern culture?

    So I look forward to reading about the local observations about the bird massacres in Malta. Which leads to my final question: to what point can and should outsiders attempt to modify their host culture?

  3. Andy: The passenger pigeon example isn’t particularly relevant, seeing as the last recorded sighting was in 1900. The world and its people have learned a lot since then, so I’m not sure how it applies (except to point out that Maltese hunters are backward?). First World nations (particularly tiny ones) ought to be able to manage their hunting instincts. Canada does it–why can’t Malta?

    Your comment about sustainability and the Maltese bird population is entirely speculative. There’s plenty of science to support the fact that Maltese hunters are having a significantly negative impact on migratory bird populations. What more do you need?

    In my world view, things that aren’t justifiable don’t make sense. There’s no place in tradition or custom for the needless slaughter of living things.

    I was pretty peeved when a Washington state First Nations group decided they wanted to hunt a whale because it was their traditional right. Sure, they ate the whale, but they certainly didn’t need to hunt it.

    In any case, many Maltese hunters are acting illegally and irresponsibly. If they continue that behaviour, and the government doesn’t undertake swifter penalties, their grandchildren probably won’t be able to enjoy their ‘custom’.

  4. have you ever considered that your assumption about hunting in Malta could be motivated by deceitful information from birding societies intent on banning hunting in Malta. in my entire life (50years) i can honestly say that i have not seen 3 million birds. I am not trying to excuse illegal huinting which does exist. But this is literally a case of making a mountain out of a mole hill which you were gullible enough to believe. for your information penalties for illegal hunting carry a 2 year prision term and a fine of 18,000 US dollars can Canada compete in this respect.

  5. Sir,

    I wonder how a man of your intergrity
    swollow all that noinsense about killing 3 million in a year. I am 57 years old and have been a hunter all my time and i,m proud of it.I wish that at least I have SEEN not killed a quarter of that number in my life time during hunting seasons. Lastly for your information we eat our game that is qauls and the turtle dove.

  6. I’d be interested to read the promised post on this subject after you’ve lived in Malta for a while.

    certainly seems to have ruffled a few feathers 🙂

  7. Dear Mr.Barefoot,

    I can appreciate your love for writing since you claim to be a writer. I do however question the ethics of your writings. You’re surely not informed well enough since at the time of your writing there has been a pro-hunting website [http://www.huntinginmalta.org.mt]

    Now here’s my 2-cents worth : Hunting is always sustainable since it follows the predator-prey cycle. Thus when there are alot of birds you’ll get numerous people hunting and when the bird population is depleted the hunters become disinterested and the population will regain. Bird populations are decreasing due to a thousand and one reasons especially those which are non-selective like destruction of natural habitat, spraying of whole acres of land etc. Do not fool yourself and compare Malta to Vancouver .. there is one special reason why we don’t have resident birds in Malta and it’s not the hunters BUT the natural environment is not suitable. Also please spread the information around that Malta is being built up without any plans whatsoever, going even high-in the skies and is one of the mostly lit islands. Do you expect birds to be present in such an environment?

    Contrary to what you claim; hunting in Malta is well under the control of the authorities and the laws have been evolving year by year so much so that nowadays only 8 species of birds can be hunted from land. And every shot in Malta is heard not like in Vancouver so if you hunt illegaly you have a very slim chance of not being seen and caught!

    I hope you are a little bit more informed now. Creative thinkers usually think laterally and not follow just one agenda!!!

  8. How can you talk like that about something you have never seen or is not proven????

    One suggestion mate……..
    Let us deal with our problems and you deal with yours.

    When you have facts……publish them, but honestly, were did you get those numbers from!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That’s a complete joke and lie.

    Come on over and spend three weeks out in the field with me next April and see how many Thousands I catch!!!!!

    You lying and ignorant joke

  9. Martin: there’s a fundamental problem with your ‘predator/prey’ argument. Humans have hunted hundreds (thousands?) of species to extinction–the dodo, the passenger pigeon, the yangtze river dolphin, just to name three. Further to that, we’ve hunted and fished plenty of species to such low levels that the fisherman and hunters have destroyed or severely damaged their own industries.

    Humans are lousy at self-control. There’s plenty of evidence of hunters’ lack of control from what I read in the newspapers on Malta, and when I hear out-of-season shots fired from my farmhouse on Gozo.

    In any case, I’m confident that Malta will follow the paths of most Western nations in terms of hunting. The populations become more and more urbanized, educated and environmentally-responsible and fewer and fewer people want to hunt. Either that, or the Maltese hunters will slaughter the migratory birds into near-extinction.

  10. Anonymous: Go ahead and use your own name, instead of mine. As I indicated, those facts come from my “Lonely Planet” guidebook. That’s not the most authoritative source, but I’m guessing they fact check fairly accurately.

    If you’ve got some more compelling scientific numbers that are more authoritative and peer-reviewed, I’d love to hear them.

  11. Listen Mr,

    You wrote a lot of BULLSHIT about Maltese hunting, first you have to know the situation well about Maltese hunting. First you said that around 3 million birds are killed every year which is the biggest bullshit you have wrote. I’ve been hunting for the last 5 years I think and the biggest amount of turtles doves I caught were 25 in 2 months which means not even a dove a day, in the other season I range from 10 to 18 doves, which are a small amount considered with how much are caught in other countries.

    The next thing you have to see is the wildlife we have. We are not like England France etc, which have a lot of local birds like Woodpigeons, ducks or geese. Here in Malta we only have the Sparrow as a local bird so what should we hunt!!!! Compared with other countries we do not have animals like deer’s, boars etc, we only have some rabbits which are not found everywhere.

    But I have to say one thing, its true we have some idiots that shot at everything, but these are in very small numbers and because of our government we can’t do nothing to stop them, and because of these people every good and real hunter is being accused. I mentioned the government because everyone knows that he knows every hunter that hunts illegally and doesn’t want to stop him, because he is afraid of losing votes for the election.

    I like your website, but I hope you write about Maltese hunting true things because for me you are lying and put a dark shadow on good people or hunters call them what you want that only want to catch some turtle doves or quails.

  12. maltese hunters are a large horde of thugs, who have been protected for way too long by politicians eager for their votes, all have a trophy cabinet where they display stuffed protected species, they consider it a sign of some sort of power or something, like someone would diplay a bear skin or something, they shoot at protected species use illegal bird callers bully tourists, take up public land and intimidate you, and now burn birdwatchers cars. Theyre a disgrace to our nation.

  13. first of all i would like to invite you to come and spend the hours we spend hunting to miserablyh get around 30 turtle doves per season..another thing EU wants to use us the maltese people as a warning to other countries since we are the smallest member state. i must admit that there is still illegal hunters but the number is very limited. i invite you to tell me one place in the world where there is no illegal hunting or something else..the misfortune is that the media and bird life/lies malta are working together to try to make malta a reserve which unfortunatelly is not possibe. here in malta we have no natural ponds,lakes etccc we lack from water.. another thing if someone thinks that our PRIVATE Property will be open to everyone by banning hunting he is wrong. I hope that we will not have the NEED to make fences around our properties like everyone else!!!!! Another thing the world record for dove shooting in 8 hours is of 7314 doves and for sure this is not in malta but in Argentina u can check for ur self if you think im crazy

  14. another comment …go to mizieb (maltese know what im talking about) after that there was no hunting season in april and u can see the rubbish everywhere left by campers.. U call this taking care of the enviorment???

  15. I am a Maltese citizen who lived my whole 33 years on this planet in Malta. I think that the numbers stated are a bit too far fetched, but from my own experience, it is true that, REGARDLESS OF THE SPECIES, every bird bigger than a thrush that flies within gunshots’ reach is a very potential target in Malta and Gozo. I am not saying that all hunters shoot at protected species, but in Malta, if you have just 100 trigger happy guys, it would be enough to cover the vast majority of the islands, since many birds are narrowly channeled into the small pockets of countryside left! I do not agree with the pro-hunting groups that keep denying the fact the illegal hunting is going on, and they should unite their forces with anybody who is willing to stop it. I am sure that most hunters know who is breaking the law, but for some reason, the hunting federation never took any concrete action against any individual, or encouraged its members to report these ‘few’ illegal shooters! Who knows, could it be because they are not really so few?

  16. ‘Though it has relatively few native birds, Malta is a stopping point for many species of migratory bird. According to my Lonely Planet, more than 3 million of them are killed or trapped every year. 3 million on islands that have a human population of 400,000. That’s incredibly repulsive to me.’
    Yes it is repulsive dear Mr Barefoot…but to quote from sources that aren’t reliable….
    I suggest you visit our tiny island when birds are migrating to see and verify yourself….an Island which is not a main bird migratory route as stated by the local Anti-hunting lobby and that numbers of birds caught in Malta are inflated by 1000 times for the simple reason to attract meat heads like yourself….next time please verify that data in putted on the web is accurate, reliable and correct..thanks and pls don’t bother to reply….

  17. I am from Malta, I live here. Your article is only there to make people laugh!!!!

    I dare you to bring a group of people to Malta to stay here for a number of years 2, 3, 5, 10 you name it!!

    And if you manage to count 3 million migratory birds I will peronally pay all your expenses!!!

    Those figures are a big fat lie.

    The land is barren. Birds are minimal and that is fact!!

    Please come and see for yourselves.

    Peak migration periods:
    End of March to end of May
    1st of September till end November.

    You are all welcome to witness for yourselves!!!!

  18. 3 million birds killed in Malta is not a big fat lie. Actually the number may seem more realistic when you divide it with the number of hunters, that is 15,000. This sums up to 200 birds per hunter.

    And please don’t just mention turtle doves and quail cause i have personally witnessed the illegal shooting of a variety of species in Malta. On one occasion one hunter saw us looking at a flock of Swallows and martins and all of a sudden opened fire on them killing about 8 of them.

    Also one should consider the birds which are shot, get hit and then die from gunshot injuries later on.

    Illegal hunting is a wide scale problem in Malta. The least hunters can do is admit it.

  19. It used to be 10 million shot birds now what happened,how come it went down to 3 million,maybe because of the higher oil prices. the good thing is that the Pinnochio story was just a fairy-tale,otherwise we might see a lot of very,very long-nosed liers running around.

  20. http://www.komitee.de/en/index.php?italy
    Birdhunting in Italy – Italy’s traditional tragedy

    ‘The same tragic spectacle repeats itself year after year south of the Alps. No sooner have the autumn migrants crossed the Italian border on their route to Africa, than they fly into a hail of lead from hundreds of thousands of hunters. A total of 40 migrant bird species can be legally hunted in Italy between mid-September and the end of January. The authorities permit each of the 710,000 registered hunters a shooting bag of 30 birds a day on 55 hunting days per year. This results in the death of some 16 million birds in Italy every year.
    In some regions, such as around Lake Garda, on Sardinia, and along the south Italian coast, poaching with traps and nets still occurs’

    Dear Mr M Demajo
    So now, lets do some Maths
    In Malta there are 16,000 hunters and they catch 3 million birds
    Simple Proportion …
    and in Italy there are 710,000 hunters and they catch 16 million birds… as quoted by CABS….
    Therefore Maltese Hunters total catch will total to 360,563 birds…..divided by 16,000 Maltese hunters = 22.5 birds per capita….say 23 birds.

    To conclude, those individuals who insist that in Malta hunters catch more than this amount are absolutely misinforming the general public by these untruths….please stop this nonsense and if you really want to verify please visit
    http://forum.huntinginmalta.org.mt

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