Europe’s birds breed in spring and summer, raising their young when food is plentiful and the weather hospitable. In autumn, as the cold sets in and food sources dry up, Europe’s birds migrate to warmer climates where food supplies are more abundant and the weather is more hospitable. These wintering grounds can be as far as South Africa, or as close as southern Europe; in fact several species over-winter in Malta including the Common Starling, Robin and White Wagtail among others.
Image showing the three main flyways used by migratory soaring birds. Source: Born to Travel Campaign/VBN.
Birds migrate using three main routes; the east via Spain and Gibraltar, the west via the Bosporus (Istanbul) and Turkey, and the central Mediterranean over the Italian peninsula and the Central Mediterranean islands including the Maltese archipelago.
In spring birds leave their wintering grounds and head north for the breeding season. Not all the birds which reached the wintering grounds will have survived to leave for home. Of the birds which start the migration, not all will reach their breeding grounds due to severe conditions during migration. Therefore, those birds which do make it to Europe are the survivors of the bird world, the birds on which the future of the species depends.
The Importance of Malta
Ringing studies have revealed links between Malta and 48 other countries, from as far north as Norway and as far south as South Africa.
|Birds travelling over Malta come from at least 48 other countries. Source: BirdLife Malta. |
Malta is located on the central Mediterranean flyway, one of the three main flyways used by birds to travel between Africa and Europe. This is the only route where birds must cross a large body of water on their migration. When flying over land, birds such as raptors glide on rising bodies of hot air, however over the sea these birds need to expend a lot of energy beating their wings in flight. This is very exhausting and makes the few islands where birds can stop, feed and regain their strength invaluable as resting and refueling spots. The same is true for smaller migratory species that use these areas to seek refuge from sudden storms or high winds. The Maltese archipelago is one of the few places on this route where birds can do so.
If some of the resting bird species find suitable habitat and conditions, they may decide to end their migration and use Malta as their wintering ground. On the other hand, birds returning northward from Africa may decide to stay in Malta to breed. Amongst the species that end their northern migrations in Malta and remain to breed are Little Ringed Plover, Common Swifts and Barn Swallows among others.
Malta has 29 breeding bird species – some resident year-round and some found only during the breeding season.
| Source: Sean Gray|
Historically the islands have been host to many more regularly breeding species, including the Serin, Linnet, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl and Eurasian Jackdaw, among others. However, intense illegal hunting and/or trapping has led to the local disappearance of these target species.