The cabinet is expected to approve on Sunday the establishment of a network of bird-watching centers aimed at boosting nature tourism to Israel. The project, which is scheduled to take wing in about a year, is expected to cost about NIS 40 million.

Surveys show that nearly one hundred million bird-watchers worldwide are willing to travel to catch a glimpse of their favorite feathered species. Israel holds a particular attraction as a bird-watching destination because it is on one of the world’s main migration routes between Europe and Africa.

Tourism professionals believe the proposed new birding centers, which will provide information and services at the highest levels, have the potential to draw in around 100,000 foreign bird-watchers every year.

The cabinet resolution, written by Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Silvan Shalom, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee calls for building major centers in Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea, and also in Sde Boker, in the Negev. Two smaller stations will be established at Kibbutz Lotan and at Moshav Hatzeva, in the Arava, and existing centers in Eilat, the Jordan Valley, Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin and Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael are to be renovated and upgraded.

These centers are envisioned as the first step in creating a network of centers, an idea formulated by the Israel Ornithology Center, part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The cabinet resolution stipulates that SPNI will create a bird monitoring database that includes added information for educational and tourism purposes.

It is also hoped that the project will set an example for cooperation with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority: It calls for installing nest boxes in the PA for raptors, to encourage natural rodent control in areas under cultivation.

Israeli skies are a major thoroughfare for migrating birds. About 500 million birds from 500 species, some of them very rare, pass through Israel during the twice-yearly migration season, from Europe and West Asia to Africa in the winter, and back home in the spring.

The Tourism Ministry said it plans to put NIS 12 million into the project and to head the steering committee. “The cabinet decision resolution will allow Israel to realize its tourism potential in bird-watching and turn Israel into a leading destination while broadening the country’s tourism offerings,” Misezhnikov said.