Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Nature's Inspiration

Knowing No Boundaries
by Yossi Leshem, The International Center for the Study of Bird Migration

“. . . Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtledove and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming. . . .” —Holy Bible (GMLT), Jeremiah 8:7

Israel is a small country, located at the junction of three continents: Asia, Europe, and Africa. From a political point of view, this is a nightmare. Since the dawn of history, this area has suffered from continuous wars, aggression, and conflicts. But to the naturalist, this location is a dream. Twice a year, Israel becomes the funnel through which 500 million birds must pass en route between breeding grounds in Eurasia and wintering grounds in Africa.

In 1995, a team of German and Israeli scientists, including myself, began working together to track the movements of 120 migrating storks along this route by attaching small, lightweight radio transmitters to them. Every 90 minutes, we could find the storks’ locations through the Internet. One year later, our project was incorporated into the educational curriculum of the Israeli school system, and children of various backgrounds were soon learning all about birds and migration with the scientists.

The migration monitoring project was planned as a platform to get the “young scientists” to study one of the most exciting natural phenomena—bird migration—and to get them to communicate and form friendships with other students living within the storks’ range. In Israel, 250 schools are involved in this effort, which is based on the Web in Hebrew and English. About 50,000 students have participated, to date. This year, the Web site will also be available in Russian and Amharic.

Vicariously following these birds has been an emotional journey. The storks, which were given Moslem, Christian, and Jewish names, know no political boundaries. They take off in the morning in Syria; fly through Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority; and land in Egypt at day’s end. They freely cross many borders in a day, in peace. Perhaps, one day, we all will be able to do that, too.

In 1998, the project was extended to schools in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan thanks to a U.S. Agency for International Development grant. The nongovernmental organizations Wildlife Palestine and Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature are coordinating the project, which has become a huge success story, even in these difficult times. Working in partnership, they are establishing banding stations and publishing educational material on the region’s bird species and migration, and have developed Web sites in Arabic and English.

Most important of all, the migrating birds have been teaching us about our own interconnection with nature and each other, and the possibilities borne of cooperation. Traditionally, doves and pigeons are the symbols for peace, but for us, it is storks, raptors, pelicans, and cranes that carry the message of peace on their wings.

Editor: You can learn more about these bird monitoring programs on the Web at www.bird.org.il, www.wildlife.pal.org, and www.birds.rscn.org.jo.