Quail Fields in Summer
by James McCulloch
As the mist clears
And the church bells ring,
God’s angels are brought to my land.
‘Wet my lips, wet my lips’
Is what I hear them sing.
Balls of life,
Dusted with down,
They bring wealth to church and parish.
A nobleman’s dish to many,
A bird of such renown.
As the gale blows,
And the rain sets in,
My heart fills with loss and sorrow,
For such ethereal creatures,
Of ephemeral nature.
The Quail is such an enigmatic game bird – with a size closer to that of a Robin’s than a Great Spotted Woodpecker’s! As inferred by the poem, what the Quail loses in size it makes up for in fluffiness. This adds to its appeal, who doesn’t like a tiny, cute, fluffy chicken?
With all its great features, one would think that everybody would be striving to save it and the population would be high and stable. However, sadly that is not the case. As with other migratory birds, Quail are being shot, captured and killed for their meat. Some of the main culprits of this mass murder are in Malta – a seemingly innocent holiday destination which happens to be right in the path of migrating birds each spring and autumn. Many Quail choose to migrate across the Mediterranean through Italy, then Malta and ending up in Tunisia or Libya (if they’re lucky).
Thank goodness there is another main flyway: Spain, to Gibraltar and then into Morocco. The inhabitants of Gibraltar do catch birds, however. Fortunately, they are captured for ringing and other monitoring and conservation programmes. For those who don’t know, ringing is where people put a very light metal ring on a bird’s leg. Each ring has a specific code on it, for example EX12345 and a place or organisation. Most birds ringed in Britain have the Natural History Museum ring on them, for example. Ringed birds can then be recovered at another site or spotted by a member of the public and then the record can be sent into organisations like EURING in Europe or SAFRING in South Africa. This helps track the birds’ movements and development, crucially helping us to better understand the behaviour of our ‘feathered friends’.
Maltese hunters recently celebrated victory in a referendum on whether it should be illegal to kill birds before they have a chance to breed. This was to the dismay of various organisations and people fighting against the slaughter of these birds, such as BirdLife. However, those fighting the slaying mustn’t give up, it was only a very narrow win for the opposition. 2,200 more votes to ban the hunting would mean the killing could be ended completely!
The hunters are given a quota on how many birds can be killed. This is currently 5,ooo Quail and 11,000 Turtle Doves. I think most people reading this will agree that this is 16,000 too many. Even worse is that hunters are accused of ignoring these quotas and even illegally hunting protected birds like Storks, Swifts and Gulls.
How you can help: If you happen to live in Malta, you can report illegal hunting here, on BirdLife Malta’s website. Details on which hunting is illegal is included. If you live elsewhere, you can still help. You can donate to BirdLife Malta here.