As the adage goes, some people are neither fish nor fowl, which means that they don’t clearly belong in any one category. This seems to be the case for those birds which fly, but which also find themselves at home living in, on or around the water.
Also known as water-birds and waders, these are species of birds which thrive both on salt-water and/or freshwater habitats. In Malta, there are a number of areas which are particularly optimal habitats for aquatic birds. These include Malta and Gozo’s Coastal Cliffs, the islet of Filfla, the Għadira Nature Reserve, whose brackish lake and salt-marsh habitat is extremely important, the Simar Nature Reserve, whose open pools and reed-beds teem with wildlife, the artificial freshwater lakes at Chadwick Lakes , the Salina Salt Pans, as well as Comino, which is an important spot for migratory birds.
Some water-birds that one can spot in Malta include:
Scopoli’s Shearwater (Previously also known as Cory’s Shearwater) (Ċiefa)
This waterbird is most commonly seen between March and October, especially during the night. It is brownish-grey, spanning 112 – 126cm from one wingtip to the other, and 45-56cm from beak to tail. It usually breeds and nests along the coast on the northern side of Malta and Filfla, with some small populations on Comino and The Fungus Rock. The biggest colony can be found in Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo. This species glides over the water and feeds on small fish, molluscs and offal, and can also dive deep in search of prey.
European Storm-petrel (Kanġu ta’ Filfla)
Being 34-41cm in length from one wingtip to another and 15-16cm from beak to tail, this small common bird is mostly active on our islands from March to September. Its mostly black plumage, black legs, white rump and black beak are quite distinct. This species mostly keeps to the shores and sea, and only nests on land during the mating season. It’s mostly found on the islet of Filfla as well as Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo. This is a migratory bird and feeds on squid and fish. It suffers from the onset of natural predators such as owls, falcons and gulls.
Great Cormorant (Margun)
This large black bird is seen frequently between October and February around coasts and harbours. The species has increased in numbers during the last few years. It normally nests in colonies on trees near the coast, and its nest is formed of small branches and seaweed. Measuring 121-149cm from one wingtip to the other and 77-94cm from beak to tail, this species is very widespread both in Europe and Atlantic waters. The great cormorant mainly eats fish and can dive to considerable depths, but prefers to feed in shallow water.
Little Bittern (Russett tas-Siġar)
This very small aquatic bird, measuring only 33-38cm from beak to tail and 49-58cm from one wingtip to the other, is frequently seen during the months of Spring, and sometimes even in Autumn. The male is characterised by its pink head, green legs and a yellow beak, while the female is almost totally brown. It’s mostly found in valleys with freshwater. In fact, it usually nests in between water-reeds, which is why the species is plentiful within the Simar Nature Reserve. It is found in Africa, Europe and Asia, and feeds on tiny fish, insects, and amphibians.
Squacco Heron (Agrett Isfar)
This yellow and white bird, with a wing-spread measuring 71-86cm, is frequently seen in Spring and also in Autumn. Its green legs and light blue beak make it very apparent. It usually nests in colonies on trees and reeds near ponds and rivulets. This bird is migratory and winters in Africa. It prefers marshy wetlands and feeds on fish, frogs, and insects.
Greylag Goose (Wiżża Griża)
Although this species is classified as rare, it can still be admired around the Maltese Islands during the months of September till January. It measures 149-168cm from one wing to the other and 74-84cm from beak to tail. It is the largest species of wild goose found in Malta, and also sports the thickest neck. Uniformly grey – apart from an orange beak and pink legs – it nests in semi-watery locations and migrates southwards in winter. The Greylag Goose is herbivorous and feeds mainly on seeds and grasses.