Pelican Brief

Farmers Face Fowl Invasion as Program to Feed Migrating Birds Faces Cancellation

In the coming weeks some 45,000 pelicans are expected to fly over Israel on their fall migration from Europe to Africa.

A pelican looking for food at fish farm near Kfar Rupppin.
Moshe Gilad

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has warned that it might have to stop its pelican-feeding program, designed to keep the hungry birds out of commercial fishponds, because the government has not paid its share of the bill.

If the program is stopped and the birds go back to raiding the local fishponds, growers will incur severe economic damage, and could be prompted to take extreme steps to get rid of the birds.

In the coming weeks some 45,000 pelicans are expected to fly over Israel on their fall migration from Europe to Africa. On the way, the birds stop here for a few days and feast on fishpond fare. One percent remain in the country and the rest continue to Africa.

Some years ago, the fish growers demanded that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority take steps to prevent the severe damage the birds do to their yield. In a few cases, the growers shot and killed the birds.

In the past few years, the nature authority has begun to maintain feeding stations where the birds could eat surplus fish not destined for marketing. “We buy these fish from the growers and take them to two sites. One of them is the pool in the closed part of the Hula Nature Reserve in the Hula Valley, and the second is at the water reservoir in the Hefer Valley,” said Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, the authority’s chief scientist. 

The growers also continue to chase off birds that insist on feeding at the commercial ponds, without shooting them, in coordination with the nature authority. This two-pronged approach has significantly reduced damage to yields from the ponds.

The authority provides half the cost of feeding the birds, which comes to 700,000 shekels ($184,750) a year and the Agriculture Ministry gives the other half. But this year, the Agriculture Ministry did not pay its share.

A month ago, authority head Shaul Goldstein asked Agriculture Ministry director general Shlomo Ben-Eliyahu to approve the funding, “in order to reduce the conflict between the pelicans and the fisheries.” No response has been received yet. 

Authority officials made another effort on Friday to obtain the funding at a meeting that Agriculture Ministry officials were to have attended, but the latter did not show up. “If we can’t get the funding, we will only be able to provide a small quantity of the food for the pelicans,” Shkedy warned. “That puts the entire project at risk,” he added. 

Shkedy said the authority would not allow the growers to shoot the pelicans, which are legally protected species.

Last year a number of kibbutzim that have fishponds took the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to the Haifa District Court, demanding that the authority compensate them for 5 million shekels in damages after they claimed the authority did not feed the birds in 2009–2010.

The Agriculture Ministry did not respond to a request by Haaretz for a comment for this report.