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Israel - Crossroads for Migrant Birds

Abstract from Ibis
21st May 1996

A paper in the latest issue of Ibis (138, 188-203) establishes Israel as a very important country for the migration of soaring birds. The numbers involved have been counted accurately by a string of observers covering the whole width of the country and radar observations and brought together by Yossi Leshem and Yoram Yom-Tov. The autumn figures were about 500,000 raptors, 250,000 White Storks and 70,000 White Pelicans and spring was even higher with a millionm raptors and 450,000 White Storks. No fewer than 35 different species of raptors were involved with Honey Buzzards featuring heavily in both spring and autumn but, of the major species, Lesser Spotted Eagles and Levant Sparrowhawks were autumn species and Steppe Buzzards, Steppe Eagles and Black Kites were spring species.

Variations between years in numbers was quite high - probably mostly to do with weather or counting effort. The total World population Lesser Spotted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk and the Pelearctic population of White Pelicans passed over each year. For other species it is clear that the previously published population estimates are grossly too small - even in some cases an order of magnitude too small! The mean numbers for some species were as follows:

Honey Buzzard361,279345,456
Levant Sparrowhawk28,13434,592
Lesser Spotted Eagle-------93,166
Steppe Eagle28,134-------
Steppe Buzzard321,021-------
Black Kite28,418-------
Red-footed Falcon-------2,847
White Stork-------416,414
White Pelican------- 71,421

The mean arrival dates of the raptors is very predicatable with confidence limits ranging from 1.5 to 5.5 days - so holiday makers can plan very precicely what they want to see - but White Storks and White Pelicans are not so predictable - confidence limits 4.2 to 13.8 days. The flocking species pass in a very consentrated period. The period in autumn when 90% of the passage takes place is 13 days for Levanmt Sparrowhawk, 15 days for Lesser Spotted Eagle, 16 days for Honey Buzzard and 18 days for Red-frooted Falcon. Individual migrants - Egyptian Vulture, Marsh Harrier and Short-toed Eagle take twice as long. The timing and spread of the migration for each species was affected by age at first breeding, diet and the extent of the breeding area.

Not only is this paper an important summary of knowledge but it does draw further attention to one of the major corridors of migration in the World. The peak numbers in spring (six years 1977 - 1987) and autumn (nine years from 1982 - 1990) were as follows:

Short-toed Eagle3458,045
Lesser Spotted Eagle74141,868
Steppe Eagle75,073456
Imperial Eagle9537
Spotted Eagle1185
Golden Eagle9 
Booted Eagle1751,973
Long-legged Buzzard10562
Steppe Buzzard465,8272,166
Honey Buzzard851,598437,432
Black Kite31,7741,734
Egytian Vulture802474
Griffon Vulture1776
Marsh Harrier3711,534
Hen Harrier21 
Montagu's Harrier44103
Pallid Harrier11357
Levant Sparrowhawk49,83644,653
Eleonora's Falcon1644
Red-footed Falcon5,752 
Saker Falcon2 
Lanner Falcon7 
Lesser Kestrel54 
Biggest year total1,193,751603,846

Note these figures have been reconstructed from tables which have at least one error in them. Birds not identified to species are omitted.

Bird On! may eventually carry information on birding world-wide and tell you which companies run tours to which countries. We are not able to carry such services at the moment but, if your appetite is whetted, there are many different tours run specifically to watch the raptor migration in both spring and autumn. In particular there are excellent facilities at Eilat and research work goes on there each year.

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