The European Commission’s 1979 Wild Birds Directive bans member states from hunting wild birds during spring, the period during which they are breeding or migrating, as hunting wild birds before they have reproduced is perceived to have a greater effect on bird populations than it would in autumn or winter. Malta is the only European Union member state to allow recreational wild bird hunting in spring, when birds migrate over the country to their European breeding grounds. Malta’s derogation of the European Commission’s ban can only be legally permissible if no alternative solutions to spring hunting exist. Using figures provided by hunters, we show that greater numbers of European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur and Common Quail Coturnix coturnix – the two species for which spring hunting is allowed – are hunted in autumn than in spring. We show that statistics on the number of birds hunted in spring, which hunters are legally obliged to provide to authorities, are under-reported: they are not correlated, at times negatively correlated, with data on the daily influxes of birds, and they spike in the final week of the season, consistent with the hypothesis that hunters under-report to avoid reaching quotas which would result in an early season closure. Finally, while there are wide error margins around the numbers, independent annual estimates of turtle-doves hunted in Malta imply spring hunting is a conservation concern beyond the country itself. Each spring, hunters in Malta kill the equivalent of between 2.4% and 4.4% of Europe’s turtle-dove population and 0.4% and 0.5% of its quail population.