Any time of day or night, you can watch hundreds of feathered friends keeping house in a rare urban habitat nestled between the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and the Supreme Court.
The Nili and David Jerusalem Bird Observatory (JBO) opened on April 24, 1994. Its silver anniversary year is filled with special events, lectures and trips.
“In the spring, we’ll have a big event to mark the end of the anniversary year and the publication of a book by our staff about the last 25 years and the 300 species of birds that have been seen in the Jerusalem area,” says JBO Director Alen Kacal.
At any given time, JBO houses 20 to 40 species.
The JBO is a magnet for migrating and wintering birds including wrynecks, collared flycatchers, masked and red-backed shrikes, thrush nightingales, European robins, hawfinches and bramblings.
Among the many resident Israeli birds that have built nests at the JBO are Palestine sunbirds, spectacled bulbuls and Israel’s national bird, the hoopoe.
From March to the end of May, visitors are welcomed to the JBO’s Ariel Wiseman Ringing Station to watch bird banding, Sundays to Thursdays from 9-3. The birds are weighed and ringed (banded) on one foot so that their movements can be tracked by bird centers anywhere.
“We ring around 10,000 birds every year,” says Kacal. “That’s only a small portion of the birds that pass through the area — a good number, seeing we are only an acre and a half.”
Night hikes, crafts, tree plantings
A project of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the JBO also houses lots of plants and small animals such as snakes, turtles, porcupines, hedgehogs and bats.
The bird observation area (called a “hide” or “blind” because the birds don’t know they are being watched) is open 24/7.
The site’s visitors center includes a gift shop and the Gail Rubin Wildlife Art Gallery.
Bird watching, night hikes, nature movies, group tours, nature crafts, photography workshops, sketching workshops, and birdwatching workshops are offered throughout the year.
“We also do tree plantings here in honor or in memory of loved ones or to do carbon offsets to benefit the environment,” says Kacal.
She has been at the JBO for 18 years and has seen many changes. Some are worrisome.
“One of the trends reported in the US is the loss of 2-3 million birds a year. We’re seeing that here, too. For instance, when I started here we had a few nesting pairs of turtledoves — a bird that once was very numerous in the land of Israel and is mentioned in Song of Songs — but today to see one at the JBO is extremely rare and they’re decreasing worldwide. We think in the future there will be no more turtledoves.”
Kacal says the problem is caused by hunting and by habitat encroachment. “Turtledoves are suffering intensely, and we’ve been trying to make it illegal in Israel to hunt them,” she says.
“We have seen a gradual decrease in many other species that pass through here,” she adds. “Migratory birds are in trouble.”
But it’s not all bad news. “Some of our local birds are doing well,” says Kacal. “For example, long-eared owls nest all over Jerusalem and we’ve lately seen an increase. Other local garden birds are doing well. It’s the migrants that seem to be suffering more.”
JBO tours, classes and other programs are available in Hebrew and English.
“Anybody is welcome to contact us that they’re coming, and we’ll provide a private tour,” says Kacal. Contact the JBO at firstname.lastname@example.org or +972 (0)2-653-7374.