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Success on the Straits

European Migration

Many of the birds of Europe migrate in the Spring and Autumn in generally North/South movements; large numbers spend the winter in Africa and fly north to Europe for the breeding season. When they reach the Mediterranean sea they use one of three flyways.


The Central Flyway in the Spring

The Messina Strait, between Sicily and the toe of Italy, used to a killing ground for thousands of birds, primarily migrating raptors and above all, Honey Buzzards. The local saying was, “A man will not be cuckolded if he kills a Honey Buzzard in the Spring”. The “hunters” were waiting in the hills and on the roof tops, what happened is described in the following account by a volunteer who joined the Anti Poaching Camp a few years ago…

Buzzard shot“Day 3 (pm): Went to Catona, a suburb of Reggio Calabria, renowned for its high density of poachers and Mafia activities. I had spent three wonderful days, thrilling at the passing raptors, hearing few shots and feeling rather optimistic. Four of us stood in a lay-by, watching the sun set behind Sicily and counting 22 Honey Buzzards flying low and slow towards us. I had been briefed – “There will be shooting; count and identify the birds and count the shots.” I was watching one bird through binoculars as the shooting suddenly started. Ten, twenty, a hundred shots pierced the air all around us. “My” bird just kept on flying until it was hit and dropped like a stone. Others fell around it and I felt desolation and unspeakable anger amidst this deafening, relentless nightmare. After seven long minutes we counted just 5 surviving birds rising up the ridge behind Catona…”

Thanks to the tireless work of LIPU volunteer teams in the years since those dark days the carnage is now almost nil. Since 2004 LIPU-UK has supported an annual project monitoring the movements of raptors migrating through Sicily. The observers have been in constant touch with the volunteers on the Messina Strait and this has enabled the Forest Guards to be deployed to the right places at the right time as the birds cross the Straits.

There is no room for complacency and the camps continue, but LIPU can look back over the last 20 years and feel a real sense of satisfaction. The tragedy is that as one threat to birds is contained so others are found, the greatest threat now is the trapping of birds at the two ends of the country.

In the north steel spring traps, archetti, are used to catch robins and other small birds for the illegal restaurant trade and in Sardinia snares are set indiscriminately on the hillsides around Capoterra to catch Blackbirds and other thrushes, again for the restaurant trade.