Israeli Air Force Fighter Pilots Dodge Migrating Storks

Droves of migrating birds strike a remarkable sight as they swirl above head in flocks of some 5,000 birds at a time over the Judean Desert. There are about seven hundred million birds flying over Israel twice every year during migration season, 600,000 of them white storks, explains Noam Attias.

Attias, a birdwatcher for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, is perched atop a rocky hilltop overlooking the Jordan River Valley. She is also a former air force air traffic controller."When you see a pack of storks, even if it is small, or very, very big you see this mass of birds which are going up. Pelicans will do it in a very nice order. Storks will do it in all kinds of directions as they go up. And when they get to the top of this thermal that's when they begin to glide. That is when they are in a really nice order and I can count them really easily and I can count them 10, 20, 30, 40 and so on," says Attias.
On the edge of the Judean Desert, looking down on the sleepy town of Jericho, everything appears quite tranquil. But these are dangerous skies for Israeli fighter jets. The bird watcher’s delight is a pilot’s nightmare. Since the mid-1970’s, migrating buzzards, storks, pelicans and eagles have done more damage to Israeli fighter jets than all the Arab air forces combined.
This is due to Israel's unique geographical and political predicament. It’s a tiny country with little air space, where one of the world's biggest air forces flies right through what happens to be the main corridor for storks, pelicans and other birds of prey migrating from Europe and Asia to Africa and back every spring and fall. This "bottleneck" has fighter jets competing with birds over this very confined area.
Bird spotters, like Attias, monitor the flocks and relay the information to the air force. A special unit collects this information from her and others, adding it to their radar images to map out the areas jets should avoid.
Photo shows migrating storks.  Credit, R. Greenway, ENN

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