Birdlife - the Israel Ornithological Center of SPNI

Israel lies at a bottleneck along one of the world's most important migration flyways. Twice a year, 500 million birds are funneled over Israel; most are on their way back and forth from their nesting grounds in Europe and Asia to their wintering grounds in Africa.

Though most of these birds only stop for a brief refueling session and continue their journeys others remain for the entire winter. The importance of Israel to these birds cannot be understated. Within Israel the birds find their last food source before the Sahara desert – a 5 day flight with no food or drink. Birds that have just finished their journey back over the Sahara land exhausted in Israel and need to eat. Without Israel and the trees, bushes and ponds that these birds need -- tens of thousands of birds will not complete their annual migrations, and the loss will be felt across Asia, Europe and Africa.

 Such a magnitude of migration brings with it a wide array of opportunities and also great responsibility to the well-being of migrants. SPNI works to protect both avian residents and migrating birds in Israel by directly protecting them and their habitats. We do this through:

Research and Conservation

SPNI carries out a variety of projects to alleviate tension primarily between farmers and migrating birds. In particular pelicans, storks and cranes eat tons of fish and grains during their stay in Israel. Over the past decades we’ve developed projects to put out grain in specific fields to feed hungry cranes and storks while farmers safely grow their crops elsewhere. The “Crane Project” feeds approximately 20,000 cranes each winter and creates an attraction for 100,000’s of tourists who visit the region to see them and in doing so create jobs and income for one of Israel’s poorest areas.

With so many birds flying over Israel collisions between planes and birds are inevitable. These strikes have cost lives of both humans and birds and millions of dollars. Professor Yossi Leshem, former SPNI CEO, worked with Israel’s Air Force to develop a radar tracking system to alert the Israeli Air Force and commercial airlines where flocks of migrating birds are in real time to avoid devastating collisions. The radar center can be visited at the Latrun International Center for Bird Migration.

We’re also involved in other issues such as helping fish farmers protect their ponds without trapping birds in their nets. Another growing issue is the placement of wind turbines, whose blades travel at the speed of sound, and can be devastating for migrating birds. We conduct surveys and advise the Israel Electric Company where wind turbines can be best placed to alleviate damage to migrating birds and bats.

Education and Co-existence

Birds know no borders. SPNI has developed an array of educational programs that bring together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians through our shared avifauna. “Birds Know No Borders” allows youth to learn about birdlife through art and music. We also produce educational curriculums and run training programs for staff in hundreds of schools across the country.

Another leading SPNI initiative is the cross-border pest control project which brings together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian farmers in the introduction of nesting boxes in fields for barn owls and kestrels so they can control out of control rodent populations. These carnivorous birds are an alternative to harmful and expensive pesticides for farmers. For Jordanians and Palestinians we also had to overcome their cultural fear of barn owls who traditionally are seen as harbingers of evil spirits. As well as helping species this project brings farmers from across the border together.

Yossi Leshem's full lecture on Birds Know no Borders, Conneticut July 2014


Birding tourism is big business, with billions of dollars spent by over 100 million birders worldwide in pursuit of their hobby. SPNI has been leading the charge to develop Israel’s birding infrastructure with government ministries to develop a network of 14 birdwatching stations across the country for tourists and researchers. The aim is to build the capacity to cater to 1.5 million domestic and foreign birding tourists each year.

We have established two Israeli bird festivals which are highlights of the international birding calendar; the Eilat Bird Festival, established in 2006, and the Hula Bird Festival, in 2010. Held at the peak of the spring and autumn migration seasons bird watchers from around the world flock to spot the hundreds of different species found in Israel and add them to their life lists.

The newest jewel in our crown is the Champions of the Flyway competition. "Champions" sees teams of 3-5 birders from Israel or abroad compete to see who can spot the most species in 24 hours. The money raised from by teams is used in campaigns against illegal hunting in different countries along the Eurasian-African flyway.

Destinational America's "Birding Adventures" visits Israel


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SPNI's is a partner of Birdlife International