Hordes of migrating great white pelicans descended on Israel over the weekend, making their annual stopover as they head for warmer climates in the southern hemisphere.
An expected 50,000 pelicans will pass through Israel from mid-August to November to reach wintering grounds in Africa. They do not stay long before flying off to the Sinai Desert and continuing down the Nile to reach their winter ponds.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority lays on a feast for the birds, filling water reservoirs and pools in the Hefer Valley central regions with tons of fresh fish for the guests to eat. More fish are distributed at another location in the north of the country.
Aside from helping the birds on their way — they fly better on a full stomach — the fish help keep the flocks away from commercial fish farms.
Flanked by vast deserts to its east and the Mediterranean Sea to its west, Israel forms a key flyway and bottleneck for hundreds of millions of birds that travel between Europe, Asia and Africa every spring and fall, including perching birds (passerines), waders and birds of prey.
More than a million raptors pass through every year, including most of the world’s Levant sparrowhawks and endangered steppe eagles, and hundreds of thousands of honey buzzards and steppe buzzards.
Last month the first of tens of thousands of migrating cranes arrived at the Hula Lake nature reserve in northern Israel, kicking off a season that should see 80,000 to 90,000 of these birds arriving.
Of those, around 30,000 to 40,000 are expected to winter in Israel, and will not leave until early to mid-March. The remainder stop for a rest before flying onto Africa.
Due to their large numbers, the cranes at the Hula Lake park are a particular hit with visitors.
A spokesperson for the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, which runs the Hula Valley site, said last month a decision about feeding the cranes this year would be made by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority by mid-December.
The purpose of feeding them is to keep them away from farmers’ fields once spring crops are starting to emerge. Until then, the farmers are happy for the birds to help clean up the remains of summer crops because that causes no damage.