Jonathan Meyrav 16/02/2018 00:00


"Free as a bird" is well known phrase, one that we can all relate to. It is a beautiful phrase, one that symbolizes independence, happiness, freedom… the problem is that it is wrong, birds are not free, not in this day and age.


Birds around us have to struggle on an everyday basis just in order to survive. Breeding birds suffer from the incredible development and growth of humans all over the world, from large scale loss of natural habitat to ever developing farming technologies, pollution and more. Migrating birds have it even harder… Not only do they need to deal with the hardships of the migration journey itself, they are slaughtered by the millions along the way. I am not speaking of the natural toll migration takes, the weather, the stress and fatigue, not even the rapidly disappearing quality stop-over sites along the way, I mean slaughter. An estimated 30 million migrant birds are killed every year along their migration routes. The situation is bad all over southern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East and North Africa. Out of 40 countries surveyed in the region the only places birds are not killed in large numbers are the countries of Israel and Gibraltar.


The illegal killing of birds along the flyways is the number one threat that migrants face today. Sadly no one is spared and birds from all orders are killed, from songbirds to birds of prey to waterfowl, all are being targeted and harvested illegally for various reasons. In some cases the birds are killed for the spot, in others it is simple tradition and even just for sport, the toll is heavy and the numbers are terrifying!




Photo courtecy - Birdlife Serbia


This is where the "Champions of the Flyway" project comes in.

The Champions of the Flyway is a one of a kind bird race in which teams of birders from all over the world gather in Eilat-Israel at the peak of spring migration and race for conservation. Teams registering for the race all pull together and raise awareness and much needed funds to tackle the illegal killing of birds, one place at a time.  COTF is coordinated by the Israel Ornithological Center (Society for the protection of Nature in Israel) in conjunction with Birdlife International. Every year we choose a Birdlife International partner that will be the recipient of the money raised by the participating teams. The criteria for choosing the recipient are simple; first the projects need to directly tackle the illegal killing in the receiving country and second the project has to involve an educational aspect involving children.

The project structure is simple as well, teams registering for the race receive a fundraising platform in which they address their crowds, tell the story of the illegal killing in the chosen country and receive donations. No sum is too small and with the power of many individual donations, a significant amount of money is raised.  The project all funnels down to a 24 hour bird race in Eilat in which the winners are the team that identifies the most species.


Since its launch in 2014 The Champions of the Flyway project has raised nearly $250,000 for projects dealing with the illegal killing of birds along the East Mediterranean flyways. During this time we have teamed up with Birdlife international partners in Georgia, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Every year one (or more) of these partners received tens of thousands of $$ for projects on the ground. The money was invested both in actual enforcement projects and mainly in educational programs for the younger generations. These programs were aimed at school children, kids in hunting communities and even a project with children of Syrian refugees in Turkey last year. The idea is that the future of bird conservation is in their hands, they just need some guidance.  




Waterfowl, Raptors, Owls, Doves, Waders and Passerines... EVERYTHING "GOES"

Photo courtecy - Birdlife Serbia


This March Champions of the Flyway is kicking it up a notch. For the first time we will be working with not one but two different Birdlife Partners, trying to tackle the illegal killing in a whole region, shared by a few countries. In 2018 we will be working to protect the Adriatic Flyway together with both Birdlife Croatia (BIOM) and Birdlife Serbia (BPSSS).

The killing of migrants along the Adriatic Flyway is a serious problem. The "official" hunting season is very loosely criticized and allows people to shoot and trap almost anything. Besides this the illegal killing that goes on is on a frightening scale. Every migration season a wide range of waterfowl, raptors, Owls, Doves, waders and Passerines are killed by the thousands, accumulating to close to a million (!) birds in the region.

One of the species that suffers the most is the Common Quail. Hunters in the region use illegal methods such as tape lures and illegal traps to harvest huge numbers of this normally shy and hard to find species.




Photo courtecy - Birdlife Serbia


The bag limits do not really exist as well, resulting in real slaughter of Quail. Over 50,000 are killed every season; a staggering number that is definitely affecting the global population. The money that will be raised through the COTF 18 campaign will go towards direct action to protect Quail and other species which are harvested in huge numbers. These actions will include monitoring, enforcement and education of people on the ground.


So how can you help?

This year around 40 teams of birders are participating in the Champions of the Flyway project. We are excited that this year there is a very strong "youth birder" element with youth teams from the US, South Africa, Israel and more are participating!  

The race which will take place in southern Israel on March 26th is only the climax of a joint fundraising campaign that is already running. Teams registered for the race are already spreading the word, giving talks, posting on social media and collecting donations that will all go to our friends in Serbia and Croatia to help with the just cause of protecting the Flyways.

To place donations please follow the link: , choose the team you would like to support and donate today. Become an active part in the Champions project and do your part to help migrant birds along the flyways!


We know that birds know no boundaries, and it is up to us to speak up and protect them because they deserve to fly in peace! Become a Flyway champion today!  

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