Updated Wednesday 3 p.m.

Three young Storks which landed at Mgarr yesterday afternoon have safely left Malta.

The graceful birds settled on a rooftop in Mgarr then flew to the top of the floodlights of the nearby football ground, much to the delight of a small crowd which gathered to watch them.

A spokesman for Birdlife said members of the society and the police had escorted the birds throughout the night and early this morning - following their movements on the ground - untill they flew on.

The birds carried rings which indicated that had been in Budapest, Hungary.

BirdLife Malta, reporting about what took place overnight, said the community spirit was impressive.

"Families watched the birds, people drove up from the surrounding areas just to see them, cameras were everywhere. We set up telescopes and invited the public to watch the storks through them – around 200 people took up the offer and it was fantastic seeing their enthusiasm," BirdLife quoted Bob Elliot, RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations and Raptor Camp team member as saying.

Raptor Camp teams and the police who stayed with the birds through the night were joined in the early hours of the morning by several locals. Teams were even offered coffee through the night by residents appreciative of their protecting these birds.

"Rare birds are highly prized by poachers and often shot at night. The storks' visible location and the strong public presence have undoubtedly helped to protect them – the result is a rare success story where the birds not only delighted viewers, but also safely left the islands." said Geoffrey Saliba, BirdLife Malta Campaigns Coordinator.

All three White Storks had metal rings, clearly visible even without optical equipment. Bird watchers read the uniquely number rings using telescopes, managing to identify each bird.

This was the first time that it was proved that White Storks which migrate over Malta originate from Hungary. Two of the young storks had been taken to a rescue centre after falling out of their nests; the third was born to a flightless pair at the centre. All three were released back into the wild.

This is the second sighting in Malta this year of birds ringed as chicks in Hungary, after a Hungarian Spoonbill was shot dead in the Salina Bird Sanctuary in June. 

Commenting on the White Storks sighting in Malta, Mr Zsolt Karcza, head of Hungary's ringing scheme said "A lot of effort has gone into protecting these storks in Hungary and we are grateful to all of the people in Malta for watching over them during their stay. We hope that on their return migration the vigilant BirdLife team will ensure they are able to travel home safely."

PBS reported yesterday that a black stork was recovered dead from the sea after having been shot.

Pictures: Stephanie Ghio - mynews@timesofmalta.com

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