The colourful European bee-eater brings a touch of the tropics to the European continent. It breeds mostly in southern Europe, North Africa and western Asia but it has been recorded breeding further north including in England and even southern Sweden. It spends the winter in tropical Africa. India and Sri Lanka.
It is a very noticeable spring and autumn migrant usually seen in large noisy flocks. Several hundred can be seen at Buskett Gardens in spring and autumn chasing insects like large colourful swallows.
Bee-eaters were not always this common. Thirty years ago bee-eaters were a rarity. I remember an Italian bird watcher informing me that the last bee-eater colony in Sicily had just been decimated, but, as Italian hunters started to be controlled bee-eaters slowly recolonized their former breeding areas.
In the past few years bee-eaters have also been recorded breeding in the Maltese islands and would do so in larger numbers if these beautiful birds were not continuously targeted by Maltese hunters.
The shooting of bee-eaters and other protected birds including birds of prey which at this time of the year are migrating over the Maltese islands continues to deprive the Maltese public from enjoying the spectacle of migration and tarnishes Malta’s reputation overseas.
Last Saturday’s emergency closure of the hunting season was a result of the killing of strictly protected birds including storks and flamingos. The closure of the hunting season means that the only way to effectively protect birds in the Maltese islands is to stop hunters from roaming the countryside during critical times of the year. This is especially important during spring when birds are returning to their breeding areas and every bird shot is a nest less.
The Valletta protest and the savage attack of a group of bird watchers and photographers at Buskett goes to show that some people are not willing to behave civilly.
On Sunday I was with the group of bird watchers taking pictures of migrating birds of prey to be used to illustrate my articles when a group of at least thirty individuals attacked us throwing stones and bottles in our direction.
We had to run as fast but not everybody was fast enough. An elderly photographer was punched in the face resulting in a fractured mandible and eleven thousand Euro worth of camera equipment stolen from him. A young man was hit in his leg while running for his life and my eight year old son saw many large stones raining all around him.
Everybody now expects the authorities to take appropriate action to ensure that these people are controlled so that migratory and breeding birds are effectively protected in the Maltese islands once and for all.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 25 September 2015.