Sunday, August 25, 2013

Striking bird breeding at GħadiraB

Black winged stilt Himantopus himantopus
The black winged stilt is known in Maltese as fras-servjent. It is an uncommon spring and autumn migrant that is sometimes seen in small flocks. It is easily recognised by its striking white and black pattern and long beak and pink legs.

Several years ago I predicted that some day the black winged stilt would start breeding in Malta. It is common in wetlands around the Mediterranean and couples had been seen taking part in courtship displays at the Għadira Nature Reserve.

In 2011 a pair did build a nest and successfully raising their young in the reserve. Last year no black winged stilts bred at Għadira but this year not one, but three pairs are breeding in the reserve.

This augurs well for the future of this bird as a regular breeder in the Maltese islands.

Black winged stilts are not the only waders to breed at Għadira. In 1995 a pair of little ringed plovers, monakella in Maltese, bred on one of the islands in the reserve. Since then this species has bred successfully every year. An average of six pairs breed in the reserve every year. The little ringed plover can now be listed as a breeding species.

The Għadira and the Simar nature reserves have been instrumental in attracting new breeding aquatic birds such as the coot and little grebe to the Maltese islands.

Other birds such as the little bittern bred once or twice and might become regular breeders in the future while others such as the moorhen and reed warbler had bred outside the reserve before but have now established strong breeding populations in the reserves.

 The success of these reserves is that they have provided habitats which previously did not exist in the Maltese islands. They also provide a safe haven where they can breed without being shot.

Nature reserves are important because they tend to encourage birds to breed in new areas or in new countries. In the UK nature reserves are sometimes called ‘welcome door mats’ because several species breed for the first times in nature reserve and from there move to new areas to establish breeding populations outside the boundaries of the nature reserves.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 5 June 2013

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