Routes of migrating soaring birds

Yossi Leshem*, Yoram Yom-Tov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Soaring migrants travelling through Israel use three principal routes which are used in the opposite directions during the spring and autumn: (1) the Western Route lies mainly along the western edge of the central mountain range, (2) the Eastern Route lies mainly along the Jordan Valley, crossing the mountain range during part of the day, continuing southward along the Dead Sea towards the Sinai, and joining the Western Route in autumn and (3) the Southern-Elat Mountains Route. The geomorphological structure of Israel, with a central mountain range dividing the country roughly into three landscape units, plays a central role in route selection. In the autumn, the Western Route migration axis is deflected at the beginning of the day from east to west for 10-25 km, depending on weather conditions and the flock's roosting locations. Between 10.00 h and 11.00 h, the daily breeze blowing from the Mediterranean Sea influences the migration axis, which is slowly deflected back to the east. A parallel deflection of the migration axis occurs in the Eastern Route in the autumn. The route moves southwest over the eastern slopes of the central mountain range during the morning hours and over the slope, which absorbs direct radiation from the sun, creating good soaring conditions. Towards late afternoon, when the breeze from the sea starts, the axis is deflected to the east, to the Jordan Valley. In the Elat Mountains, the wind flow plays a similar role, but because the topography of the southern Arava Valley causes a change in wind direction, the axis moves during the day in a north-south direction. In addition to the axis movement on a daily scale, a seasonal deflection of the migration axis from east to west also exists. During autumn migration, early migrants (e.g. White Storks Ciconia ciconia) tend to travel on an eastern route, while late migrants (e.g. White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus) travel along the Mediterranean coast. This fluctuation was probably because of sub-optimal soaring conditions along the coastal plain during August. In September, temperature differences between the sea and land decrease and the influence of the marine inversion gradually declines, until its influence disappears completely in October. A comparison of the numbers of soaring birds seen over Israel in the autumn and spring shows significant seasonal differences in the use of the various routes. For example, only one species, the Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis, flies over the Elat Mountains in the autumn, compared to more than 30 species in the spring. In the autumn, White Storks pass over only along the Jordan Valley axis, whereas in the spring, about half the migrating storks also pass over the western edge of the central mountain range. Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus fly along the Western Route in large numbers in the autumn, while concentrating almost totally over the Elat Mountains in the spring. These differences are related to the global migration routes between the breeding and the wintering grounds in relation to the Red Sea, which birds avoid crossing, thus causing them to follow different routes in autumn and spring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1998


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