Fantastic Birds and Where to Find Them: A Seasonal Guide to Birding in Israel
What is it about birds that create our fascination?
"Birds are humbling. I mean bird migration, looking up and seeing these birds doing thousands and thousands of miles, with a tiny brain that has a more elaborate gps system than anything we can invent, really puts us in place. And it doesn’t matter how much we throw at this planet bird migration carries on and nature carries on, it’s humbling."
-Jonathan Meyrav, Tourism Director at Israel Ornithological Center
Israel is an amazing place for birds. In 1581 Heinrich Bunting, a German cartographer published a cloverleaf map of the world. In this geopolitical map the center of the world is Jerusalem. This is basically how birds in the Eastern Hemisphere see the world.
Israel, located on a narrow land bridge connecting Asia and Europe to Africa, is an extremely important migration stop where birds can rest and refuel on their journeys. A hotspot for biodiversity, Israel, particularly Eilat, hosts the second largest wave of migration globally.
In the tiny country of Israel, 550 species of birds can be seen every year, which compares favorably to a 1,000 species seen in the entirety of North America.
When it comes to bird migration in Israel, the normal boxes of fall and spring migration are simply inaccurate. Migration is in full effect for 10 months of the year in Israel. Due to the complexity of migration in Israel, the best way to highlight birding hotspots is by season first, and then location.
Winter in Israel is a fantastic time to be a birder. The Eastern Valleys are some of the best locations to spot birds of prey. The Bet Shean Valley is the one of the only places to host the Black Stork during its migration. The Western Negev is perfect to spot rare birds of prey and the Southern Negev is the only place in the world the Cypress Warbler winters.
Bet Shean Valley
Bird Highlight: Black Stork
Bird Highlights: European White Pelican, Greater Spotted Eagle & Lesser Spotted Eagle
Bird Highlights: Saker Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle
Bird Highlight: Cypress Warbler
Spring is perhaps the best time to travel Israel and birdwatch. Hundreds of millions of birds stop at the “Eilat gas station”, including flamingos along with the birds listed below. Aside from the four different Eilat ecosystems to stop by in the Spring, Nizzana is a great location to make rare sightings. This is the last spot where Israeli native Macqueen’s Bustards can be seen.
Eilat - Mountains
Bird Highlight: Common Kingfisher
Eilat - Sandy Plains
Bird Highlight: Hooded Wheatear
Eilat - Desert Blooms
Bird Highlight: Arabian Dunns Lark
Eilat - North Beach
Bird Highlight: White Eyed Gull
Nizzana (far west Negev)
Bird Highlight: Macqueen’s Bustard (image)
While summer is not as active as spring for birds, there is plenty of stable activity throughout Israel as a whole. Mt Hermon is a must visit location, the tallest point in Israel at over 6,000 feet provides a cool environment in the summer heat for countless birds. Otherwise previously noted hotspots are excellent birdwatching locations such as the Hula Valley where the rare Black Francolin can be spotted in the summer.
Bird Highlight: Crimson Wing Finch
Bird highlight: European Bee Eater
Autumn is an amazing time to watch the beginnings of migration in Israel. The Mediterranean Coast is teeming with life, and the Eastern Valleys are once again biodiversity hotspots. The biblically mentioned Turtle Dove is particularly prominent in Autumn and should be a priority on every birder’s watchlist as their population has been declining rapidly.
Bird Highlight: Armenian Gull
Bird Highlights: White Stork, Turtle Dove
Don't Miss these Birding Spots
- The Nili and David Jerusalem Bird Observatory
- The Gazelle Valley (Jerusalem)
- Ramat Negev Birding Center – Sde Boker
- Kiar Ruppin Birdwatching Center – Bet Shean Valley
- Ma’agan Michael Birdwatching Center
- Eilat Birdwatching Center
The Eilat Bird Festival is hosted each Spring at the peak of the migration period in Eilat, on the Red Sea, with tours throughout Israel's southern regions, including the Arava, the Eilat Mountains, the Negev and the Dead Sea.
The Hula Valley Bird Festival is hosted each year during the Autumn migration. The festival features premiere birding experiences throughout Israel's northern regions, and in the marshy terrain of the Hula Valley.