Most European countries have their own rarities committee, some of which have been in operation since the early 1950s. The purpose of these committees is to evaluate records of rare birds occurring in a country, which often prove to be of great interest in the context of range or population expansion and also in the context of the effects of changing weather patterns.
In Malta this function is carried out by the BirdLife Malta Rarities Committee. The Committee is affiliated to the AERC (The Association of European Records and Rarities Committees). This association has the role of encouraging the founding of a rarities committee in each European country and providing help to national rarities committees when requested.
The Committee is guided by a set of regulations which are in keeping with the AERC guidelines for rarities committees. Any record of a rarity should be reported to the committee within ten days of the sighting and the description should be taken down in the field, preferably before consulting field guides.
The description should be as detailed as possible and include a full description of plumage and soft body parts, size compared to other species, age and sex, jizz, habitat, and reason for eliminating any similar species. If a bird is handled for ringing or any other purpose a full set of biometrics should also be taken. A photo is usually required for the first three records of any species that has not been recorded in the Maltese Islands before.
The Committee faces a number of problems, one of which is the importation of birds for pet trade. Subsequent escapes run the risk of confusing matters as they are then recorded in the field as a naturally occurring species. A number of skins are also imported, mostly illegally, and are then mounted and sold as locally caught because this enhances their value to local collectors. For this reason, the greatest care must be taken to ascertain whether a record is of a genuinely occurring vagrant or an imported bird.
The Committee can be contacted by post (at the postal address of BirdLife Malta). You can also e-mail the Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.