It may be the height of the winter migration season from Europe to Africa, but tens of thousands of migratory birds have opted to remain in the north of Israel over the winter months, rather than continue on their journey.
Scientists estimate that some 42,500 Gray cranes stayed this winter in the Agamon Hula Lake, feasting on crops and nesting in an artificial lake. To protect farmers’ livelihood, the government feeds the cranes up to eight tons of corn a day.
With hundreds of bird species passing through each year, the Hula Valley in northern Israel is one of the prime bird-watching spots in a country that has gained a reputation as a place of pilgrimage for ornithologists.
The Hula Valley became a prime bird-watching spot by accident. Drained of its swamps in the 1950s, the valley was re-flooded four decades later when KKL-JNF realized the drainage had damaged the local ecosystem. Farmers began planting corn and peanuts in the newly re-moistened soil — exactly the crops cranes like to eat.
With a location at the nexus of three continents, and a climatic diversity that ranges from arid desert in the south to a cooler mountainous region in the north, Israel draws about 500 million birds annually from 550 species.
The entire continent of North America, which is 1,000 times Israel’s size, sees barely twice as many species.
JTA contributed to this report.