Thousands of cranes flock to northern Israel as migration season begins

Crane migration season has officially begun after nearly 11,000 regular cranes were spotted in the Hula Valley in northern Israel.

The place is important for these feathered guests, because they need to eat and rest before they fly across the desert in the south, noted Keren Kaymit Lisrael-Yehuda, Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) president Yaron Chirka.

Thousands of shared cranes flocked to the Hula Valley in northern Israel. (Credit: Jonathan Merav/Spinney)

About 100,000 ordinary cranes come to Israel each year from Russia and eastern Scandinavia, and about 40,000 of them remain in the winter, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

Birds that do not overwinter fly south to Africa, usually south of the equator.

However, in the summer, cranes have a nesting season, and many begin to appear in Israel during October after the summer ends.

These birds are famous for their migration patterns and can be found as far afield as East Asia, India and East Africa, across Siberia and Central Asia and in parts of Europe – including as far afield as the Iberian Peninsula and Ireland.

As a result, it has been known to humans throughout history and has fascinated humanity for thousands of years.

    Cranes in the Hula Valley in northern Israel.  (Credit: Jonathan Merav/Spinney) Cranes in the Hula Valley in northern Israel. (Credit: Jonathan Merav/Spinney)

“Cranes appear in Norse and Asian mythology and folklore, and some places like Japan give the crane great cultural significance,” explained Jonathan Merav, chief birder at SPNI. In fact, the common crane in ancient Greece was the sacred bird of the god Hephaestus, and holds cultural significance in Japan and Ireland. There is even an entire museum in Germany, the Kranisch Museum, dedicated exclusively to art related to cranes.

Part of this range of cultural influence can be attributed to their widespread migrations. “Cranes are strong migratory cranes and can migrate day and night,” Merav added.

Cranes are not only known for their distinctive appearance. Birds are also known to have a very loud voice. This loud sound has been described as “supernatural”, and can be heard from very far away. During the breeding season, this call is usually accompanied by a characteristic dance. However, outside the breeding season, the deep call can still be heard in flight.

In addition, common cranes also fly in “families” for many years, as parents and their chicks migrate together – which is unusual in the bird world.

    Thousands of shared cranes flocked to the Hula Valley in northern Israel.  (Credit: Jonathan Merav/Spinney) Thousands of shared cranes flocked to the Hula Valley in northern Israel. (Credit: Jonathan Merav/Spinney)

This migration season will last from mid-October to November, but plenty remains between November and March. These cranes are likely to be seen and heard throughout Israel, some of which are concentrated in the Jezreel Valley and the western Negev. But the vast majority of birds in Israel can be seen in the Hula Valley, specifically through the KKL-JNF’s Hula Lake Park – which is the best place to see them.

The Hula Valley is one of the main points in Israel where migratory birds stop, and Hula Lake Park is one of the most popular bird watching sites in the country.

Twice a year, more than 500 million birds, of more than 400 species, pass through the Hula Lake Park area as they migrate from Europe to Africa and back.

Around April, large numbers of birds flock to Eilat for their migration as well.

Moran Snir contributed to this report.

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