Yelkouan Shearwaters successfully released; appeal for less light pollution

Researchers from the EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project have this month successfully released four young shearwaters after they were found on land, disorientated by coastal light pollution.

2 young Yelkouan Shearwaters beign released at Rdum tal-Madonna, photo by Paulo Lago Barreiro

2 young Yelkouan Shearwaters being released at Rdum tal-Madonna, photo by Paulo Lago Barreiro

The Malta Seabird Project team filmed the release earlier this month of two of the Yelkouans (Garnija in Maltese) at Rdum tal-Madonna (1). These two Yelkouans were handed over to BirdLife Malta by the government veterinary service, while two others were found by members of the public close to two coastal hotels.

Nicholas Barbara, Malta Seabird Project Manager says “At this time of the year, Yelkouan Shearwaters (2) are setting out from their nests to fly for the first time, which makes them particularly susceptible to the urban problem of light pollution.”

These seabirds, very similarly to marine turtles wait for darkness to leave their nests, and are guided offshore by the brightest glare, being the horizon in natural circumstances. So during these first flying attempts, young birds can easily get distracted by lights from nearby urban areas, ending up stranded on land, vulnerable to injury by traffic or stray animals. Unless guided back to sea, Yelkouan Shearwaters, may not be able to find their way to the shore.

“The prime solution to this problem is reducing coastal light pollution, and we appeal to all authorities as well as developers to take regard of this phenomenon,” continued Nicholas Barbara. BirdLife Malta has over the past years, with the assistance of the Light Pollution Awareness Group, issued a report documenting seabird strandings and providing guidance on better lighting schemes. BirdLife Malta have issued an updated report on their website (3), highlighting problematic areas and the need for action.

Tackling coastal light pollution is an ongoing measure, with conditions already being imposed by MEPA over lighting schemes of major developments. Wider awareness and initiative by establishments however is key to reducing the problem.

BirdLife Malta appealed to members of the public to report any stranded shearwaters. Yelkouan Shearwaters are very dark on the tops of their body and wings with a contrasting white underside and a dark slender bill. The larger Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Ċiefa in Maltese) leave their nests in late September and October and they can be recognised by their brown upper side and a large yellow bill with a black tip. Stranding reports can be made to BirdLife Malta on 2134 7644.

Yelkouan Shearwater fledgling, photo by Ben Metzger

Yelkouan Shearwater fledgling, with contrasting darker upper feathers and white underside.

The larger of the Shearwaters - the Scopoli's Shearwater , will be leaving their nests later in the summer.

The larger of the Shearwaters – the Scopoli’s Shearwater , will be leaving their nests later in the summer.

If you’d like an chance to see these seabirds, in a sensitively managed way, BirdLife Malta are running a Shearwater Boat Trip on Saturday 2nd August. You can experience the shearwaters flying just above the sea surface, then collecting together in large ‘rafts’ upon the water to wait for sunset. At this point the boat will leave, so as not to disturb the shearwaters returning to the cliffs – don’t miss out on this unique opportunity.

Tickets are €6 for members and €8 for non-members. To find out further details or to make a booking for this event, please contact Holly at or phone the BirdLife office on 21347646.

The EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project aims to identify Marine Important Bird Areas for the three species of tubenose seabirds breeding in the Maltese Islands. The project is 50% funded by the EU’s LIFE unit, and is a partnership between BirdLife Malta, the RSPB (BirdLife UK), SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change

Logos for Seabird

For more information contact:
Nicholas Barbara, Malta Seabird Project Manager
Tel: (+356) 21347644

 Link to Youtube video of Yelkouan Shearwater release by a team from the EU LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project,
(2)  Malta is important for the Yelkouan Shearwater as it holds 10% of the world population. Classified vulnerable on the IUCN
(3) Here is the link to the updated report: “Light pollution impact on “tubenose” seabirds: an overview of areas of concern in the Maltese Islands” on the reports pages on BirdLife Malta’s website:

Both photos; young Yelkouan Shearwater. Photographs by Ben Metzger

Two young Yelkouans being released on the 8th of July 2014, by a team from the EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project. Footage recorded by Paulo Lago Barreiro, edit by Ella Beeson.

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