Memories from Malta The Blue Song Thrush, one of Malta’s Symbols but also breeds in Sussex and in fact, worldwide

By Albert Fenech

If you go out into your garden or are walking around a public park, do NOT bother to search for to see or to hear the melodious singing of a Monticola Solitarius.

Great, many thanks for the tip – but what the heck is this?

Yes, I am a bird lover and I love walking around private and public gardens, to see them flying free and unhindered and hear their beautiful and melodious tweets and chirps. What I detest is to see them caged and therefore prisoners within the environment, tweeting for their freedom.

The Blue Song Thrush

And so, what is a Monticola Solitarius? It is the BLUE SONG THRUSH. “Monticolo” in Latin means mountain dweller and “solItarius” means solitary and so, why its name?

The Blue Song Thrush is a cliff dweller using cliff cavities to roost, nest and lay eggs and does not frequent low ground. There is a distinct colour difference between the male and the female because the male has a distinct and attractive blue plume colour while females are an unattractive brown.

That’s all very well for the male to plume itself and show off – but with human beings that works against it as does the beauty of its melodious singing – and the result is that the males are captured and caged and the unattractive and non-melodious females are left free and unencumbered. Better breeding opportunity for the still free flying males!

The female thrush

International travel writer Melanie Drury was born and raised in Malta but has travelled solo around the world several times and wrote of her perturbation of the plight of the male blue song thrush.

She wrote:

The male sings a clear, melodious call that you can hear frequently from February to May and again in the autumn. Unfortunately, it is that very song which has threatened the Blue Song Thrush (Monticola Solitarius). Since 1971, this – the National Bird of Malta – is a protected species.

There were days when people enjoyed keeping the beautiful blue bird in a cage to enjoy its melodious call. The young would be stolen from accessible nests to be raised in captivity, causing a marked decrease in the population. Despite protection by law, alas, this practice has not stopped entirely.”

Birds in Malta – the Blue Song Thrush is second row on the left

Known locally as “il-Merill”, the Maltese Blue Song Thrush, nests in rock cavities mainly in the western cliffs of Malta. It lays three to six blue-tinted eggs, with a pair sometimes having two broods in one breeding season, from May to June with a brief break in between.

The omnivorous bird grows to 20-23 cm long and has a long slim bill to eat worms, lizards, skinks, grasshoppers, as well as other insects and berries.

In 1971 it was declared by the Malta Government as being endemic to the country and because of its diminishing numbers was given Legal Protection and declared to be one of Malta’s National Emblems.

It may be endemic to Malta but it has a wide-ranging migration trend. Besides breeding in Malta and southern Europe it also breeds around the coasts of Sussex Cliffs as well as other areas in Britain but also in northwest Africa, central Asia, northern China and Malaysia.

 Breeding haunts in Malta Cliffs

A well-travelled bird indeed, taking its beauty around the world.

And how does this link up with Sussex?

It is described as one of Britain’s best-loved bird songsters, found across Britain.

Unlike its more captured and caged colleagues in Malta, the bird is described as having perhaps the most obliging habits because of habitats in dense woodland (which Malta does not have), parks, hedgerows, and well-vegetated gardens but the rarely stray from cover and have a tendency to mainly inhabit south Britain.

Laying blue-tinted eggs

However, very, very said to see that the Blue Song Thrush is now a Red-Listed Bird and one of great concern throughout Britain with data indicating a steep decline in numbers in 1970 though a slight recovered was notices over the last ten years.

Did something happen to the bird throughout the world in the early 70s? In Malta in 1971 it became a highly protected bird and declared a national symbol while in Britain in 1970 it became Red-Listed as being in danger of extinction.

Near Seaford in East Sussex

Beachy Head and Seven Sisters in East Sussex

In Sussex it was classed that the degradation of both nesting and feeding habits had had a huge impact because of a vast increase in farmland, meaning less roosting and less food.

The natural remedy was to relocate to the cliffs of Sussex and away from human intervention and interference.

May it remain that way. The loss of such a bird as a result of human beings would be a world travesty.

ALBERT FENECH

Malta

Author

  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s B-C-ingU.com international travel magazine.

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