Fall in Israel Means Thousands of Cranes Arriving at Hula Lake
This time of year, Hula Lake, a nature reserve in a beautiful valley in the northern Galilee region of Israel, becomes the favorite layover spot for as many as 90,000 cranes on their way to Africa—and dozens of other species of migratory birds. The first cranes arrived at Hula Lake on Tuesday. Around 30,000 to 40,000 are expected to winter in Israel. The rest of the flocks usually continue on to the African continent.
While the arrival of the birds is a draw for tourists, it can be a tense balancing act for park officials and the farmers with crops nearby in the fertile valley. As many as 500 million birds migrate through Israel every year!
Last year, in December, a strain of avian flu first hit local poultry farms and then spread to the cranes, wiping out one in five of the large birds. Usually, Hula Lake park authorities feed the cranes to keep the birds out of local farmers’ fields, at least when the spring crops start to sprout. Farmers are happy for the birds to forage and clean out the remainder of the fall crops.
Cranes weren’t the only ones affected by the bird flu last year. Pelicans on migration—500 of them—died during their stop at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. This year, the authorities have decided to not feed the pelicans since the commercial fish farmers have closed up shop in the Hula Valley, and there will be no conflict there. Instead, the birds will be free to hunt for fish anywhere in the north.
However, it’s a delicate balancing act—because in central Israel, in the Sharon area, where the fish breeding industry has a big presence—the park authorities will continue to provide fish for the birds to keep the birds from raiding the farmers’ ponds. The area is the last stop before the flocks cross the Negev Desert, and they need to be fully fueled to make the arduous journey.
As many as 50,000 pelicans stopover in Israel from mid-August to November. Unlike the cranes, the pelicans only stay a short while, pressing onward to Africa for the winter. They continue their journey across the Sinai desert and down the Nile River.
Israel is a natural passageway for birds of all sorts—the cranes, pelicans, perching birds (passerines), waders, and over one million raptors (eagles, buzzards, and hawks)—as they navigate deserts on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on their travels from Europe to Africa and back each fall and spring.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is expected to decide whether to feed the cranes at Hula Lake by mid-December.