Exciting seabird research pioneered on Malta!
It is great to have some positive bird news to report from Malta! The Birdlife Malta press release below explains all:
A first in Europe – Malta leads seabird research
Exciting and pioneering seabird research is being carried out in Malta! Researchers from the EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project today confirmed that Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis), have been successfully tracked for the first time in Europe using radio-tracking technology.
There have been previous attempts to radio-track European Storm Petrels; however the very small size of the species has inhibited success of these projects.
During July 2011 researchers in Malta equipped 34 Storm Petrel adults on Filfla with radio-tags. These tracking devices are very small and light weight; ensuring that they do not inhibit the tiny Storm Petrels. Researchers carried out 30 flights with a Cessna aircraft equipped with special antennas covering more than 8,000 nautical miles over the sea. In addition to the aerial surveys, researchers used antennas on a boat and on land to monitor signals from the tagged birds.
During July and August over 200 signals from 24 tagged birds were received and logged onto a special software pin-pointing the birds’ locations with GPS accuracy. Some signals were picked up as far out as the Italian island of Linosa.
“Being in the air and receiving the first radio signal of a tagged Storm Petrel was an exciting moment,” said Dr Benjamin Metzger, the project’s head of research.
“Starting to get an insight into the habits of this mysterious seabird around Malta’s shores has been a huge reward for our efforts. We will repeat the surveys in summer next year and the data gathered will be used to identify the main distribution areas of the Storm Petrels around the Maltese Islands,” continued Dr Metzger.
The European Storm Petrel is a small seabird, slightly larger than a sparrow, which spends most of its life far out at sea and comes to land only to breed. Storm Petrels lay a single egg per year, both parents sharing incubation and rearing the chick together.
Filfla is their stronghold in the Mediterranean Sea with more than half of the entire Mediterranean population estimated to nest here. Though it is probable that the Storm Petrel bred in other locations in Malta in the past, Filfla remained the ideal breeding place due to the protected status of the island as a nature reserve, which guarantees very limited human disturbance.
The EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project aims to identify important areas for seabirds in Maltese waters and designate special protection areas at sea under EU nature conservation legislation. The Project is managed by BirdLife Malta with support from the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and Environment, and BirdLife partners in the UK (RSPB) and Portugal (SPEA).