The Israel Ornithological Center

The Israel Ornithological Center

 

Introduction:

Israel lies along one of the world's largest migration routes.  Each year over 500 million birds, from over 300 species, fly over Israel. Its relative proximity to the Sahara desert makes it a crucial feeding and resting point along the only land bridge between Africa, Asia and Europe. This makes Israel an important focus for conservation efforts and a top destination for birding eco tourism.

The Israel Ornithological Center, a division of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), is Israel’s largest bird watching organization and responsible for many of the national efforts to develop Israel’s ornithological capabilities.

 

Female Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

 

Male Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Ezuz (Negev region)     Photo: Gidi Kertes

 

National Network of Bird Watching Centers:

In order to develop Israel’s bird watching tourism industry, globally worth billions of dollars and growing quickly, the government is investing NIS 40 million in the IOC’s plan to create a network of bird watching centers across the country. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is currently building 7 centers in the first phase of the project.

It is projected that once completed these 7 centers will host over 100,000 eco-tourists annually, a dramatic increase from the 4,000 bird watchers who currently visit. These centers will also be used for research, education, conservation and will help resolve conflicts between the birds and agriculture SPNI is responsible for the content and management of these centers which will be located across Israel.

 

Research:

For the past 5 years SPNI has been working on the first comprehensive national survey on avifauna in Israel. This report is due for publication in 2014. It will include information about endangered species, migration patterns and the status of rare and important habitats for birds. The report will be used as the foundation for future conservation policy for all bodies in Israel and, as birds know no borders, abroad as well.

 

Birding Database:

In 2013 the IOC launched an online database containing all the information gathered over decades watching the skies. This includes banding records, surveys, citizens’ science reports and our own observations. Together with general multimedia information about the birds this is the most detailed public repository of ornithological information about Israel available anywhere. It will be accessible and free of charge for the public to use at their leisure. The database will continue to be updated on a regular basis.

 

Eagles in autumn migration

 

Eurasian Griffon - Gamla (Golan hights - north Israel)     Photo: Zvi Kohol

 

Bird Conservation:

The IOC conducts many bird conservation projects. To reduce conflicts between farmers and wintering cranes in the Hula Valley food is placed in designated fields every December/January to encourage the cranes to congregate in one place and not eat newly planted crops.

 

Each year approximately 3,000 birds are killed by inadvertently become trapped in nets covering fish farms. We are actively working to reduce this number through technical solutions and by raising awareness of the ecological benefits provided by the birds. For example, approximately a sixth of all migrating black storks, which provide the ecological service of removing dead fish from pools and help control the flow of diseases, are trapped and killed in nets each year.

By educating the farmers about the benefits of the black storks we can convince them to remove nets from the pools and maintain their nets properly which saves many of these rare birds.

 

In other locations we are working with fish farmers to encourage the use of cables which when taut act as a barrier between the birds and the water.

Unlike nets, the cables act like a barrier and the birds are unable to get tangled. Where we have tested this technique we have reduced the number of birds killed by 50%. Once we have completed more research and testing the next stage is to push for legislation which will make these approaches mandatory.

 

Eco-tourism:

The IOC currently organizes 2 birding festivals in autumn and spring which have become established events in the international birding calendar. Currently several hundred people fly to Israel to take part in them. The IOC is also in the midst of planning a competitive bird watching event which will take place in April 2014 and further raise the profile of Israel as a bird watchers’ paradise.

 
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