The unique geographical layout of Israel as a terrestrial bridge between Europe and Africa makes Israel a prime location for bird watchers. Along with the Gibraltar peninsula in Southern Spain, Israel is one of the two main routes for birds migrating from Europe towards Africa on the autumn and on their way back on the spring. Israel’s soaring birdlife makes it a favorite place that delights ornithological beginners and experienced birdwatchers alike.
The main migration path follows the Great Syrian African rift that runs across the country from the northern Hula Valley (North of the Sea of Galilee) following the Jordan Valley onward until the city of Eilat. Along this route there are multiple observation facilities.
In the Galilee & Golan area – Agmon HaHula.
Eilat is considered by most birding enthusiasts as the mecca of birdwatching, as millions of birds fly through the southern Arava Desert. Eilat is the place where you can spot the Nubian nightjar, which is one of the Israel’s rarest breeding birds, as well as other species such as desert warblers, white-crowned and hooded wheaters, swallows, sparrows, bee-eaters, wagtails, and many more.
Eilat is also the home of the International Birdwatching and Research Center, Eilat (IBRCE), which devotes to research and monitoring of migrant birds and promoting eco-tourism. It also features a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. It’s a good way to include a visit to the IBRCE to coincide with the Eilat International Migration Festival in March.
Near Jerusalem & Tel Aviv
Another important observatory is located on the main highway (route #1) midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the Latrun junction. This observatory operates a radar to follow bird migration paths and cooperates with the Israeli Air Force to avoid damage to both aircraft as well as to the birds. The site is located near the Armored Corps Museum and is only available to tour groups by Prior Arrangement.
The Jerusalem Bird Observatory (JBO) lies in the heart of the capital, located between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. It has a bird-ringing center, conservation and related activities, and of course, birdwatching tours. There’s also a birdwatching club for the kids.
Galilee and the Golan
Hula Valley, located between the Golan Heights and Naftali Ridge, is also one of the prime spots for birdwatching. It was once a marsh-like lake but it was drained under government orders as it was also a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitos. However, after years of protests by the locals and environmental activists, a small section of the lake was re-flooded in an attempt to revive the dying ecosystem.
Sure enough, the small efforts have been paid off — about 500 million birds now pass Hula Valley every year. With different species of migrating birds — black storks, cranes, egrets, pied kingfishers, spoonbills, black francolin, Dead Sea sparrow, clamorous reed warblers — the Hula Valley is a must stopover for any birdwatching tour in Israel
The Hula Valley Bird Watching Center focuses on ringing demonstrations, birding tours, and educational activities. You can coincide your visit to the center with the International Hula Valley Bird Festival in November, although any time of the year is a great time to go to Hula Valley, as far as birdwatching is concerned.