Subscribe to Granta today

The Migration

|

Every spring, half a billion birds migrate through Israel and the West Bank from their wintering grounds in Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe, and every autumn they return the same way. It’s one of the busiest corridors for bird migration in the world – only the Isthmus of Panama, which links North and South America, has heavier traffic, and Panama’s airspace doesn’t support the same density of military aircraft as Israel’s. The large soaring birds that migrate by day, to exploit the thermals rising from the land, pose a particular threat to aviation: most of Europe’s white storks and white pelicans traverse the skies above Israel and Palestine twice a year and, inevitably, collisions ensue. The effects of a ten-kilo bird hitting a plane travelling at 1,000 kilometres per hour with the force of one hundred tonnes are potentially catastrophic and, in the last forty years, the Israeli Air Force has lost more aircraft to ‘bird strike’ than it has to enemy action. Not surprisingly, it has therefore begun to take an active interest in the migration, and with the help of an academic and birdwatcher named Yossi Leshem, it has built a radar system designed to detect the passage of flocks through what it calls the ‘bird plague zones’ above Israel’s narrow waist.

Read this article