Famed Gamla Vultures Face Extinction

Urban sprawl has led to the endangerment of 40 species of birds that once commonly nested in Israel.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The lesser kestrel, Bonelli's eagle and the marbled teal, once common in Israel, are among the bird populations at risk of disappearing from the country's landscape.

The growth of cities has led to the endangerment of 40 species of birds, while the population of some species, such as cranes, has stabilized or improved thanks to conservation programs.

The golden eagle and Bonelli’s eagle populations are now down to 10 pairs of each. The status of Israel’s Griffon vulture population is deemed critical due to secondary poisonings, illegal hunting and electrocution, which has hurt the large colony nesting at Gamla in the Golan Heights. As construction invades open spaces around cities, the lesser kestrels are having a harder time finding food in nature to feed their young.

“Some species have managed to deal with the changes thanks to specific conservation projects,” said Yoav Perlman of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s ornithology center. He cited the example of the little tern, protected at the Atlit salt ponds, and common cranes at Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley. Another successful save is the barn owl, which is now recognized as a natural form of rodent control for farmers. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority reports that a pair of barn owls in the Judean lowlands has managed to raise 19 chicks, apparently a world record.

These findings emerge from the data collected over five years of surveys by SPNI’s ornithology center, which will present its findings next month at the annual conference it hosts at Tel Aviv University with the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun.

Rare ducks 
being dried out

According to Perlman, 190 species of birds nest in Israel and nearly 40 of these are endangered. Surveys, mainly of the rarer species, show a worrisome trend toward the disappearance of birds from dunes and bodies of water damaged in recent years due to development. For example, the populations of four species of sand grouse that inhabit dunes have declined by 90 percent over the past two decades.

One cause for urgent concern are the populations of rare ducks, the ferruginous duck and the marbled teal. Until about 40 years ago, hundreds of nesting pairs of these species could be seen, but the survey revealed that fewer than 50 are left.

The main reason for the ducks’ declining numbers is the disappearance of natural bodies of water. They have found new habitats at reservoirs around which vegetation grows, recalling their natural nesting grounds. However, repairs to these reservoirs in recent years have damaged the vegetation. A key recommendation of the ornithology center and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is to repair the reservoirs so that the vegetation is unharmed. Another is to create artificial islands in the reservoirs where the birds can nest.

The survey also found that two major colonies of lesser kestrels, which live in urban areas in Jerusalem and the greater Tel Aviv area, have lost 20 percent of their population between 2000 and 2013.

Vulture in Gamla National Park.Credit: Rina Nagila

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