The Champions of the Flyway (COTF) contest gets underway on March 28 in Eilat with 17 multinational teams (including an Israeli-Palestinian team) setting out to document as many bird species as possible in the 24-hour race period.

The conservation race – dubbed the de facto world cup of birdwatching – raises awareness and funds for the safety of migratory birds as they cross the Middle East.

Now in its fourth year, COTF is organized by the Israel Ornithological Center and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) to celebrate bird migration and raise money to support a national BirdLife partner in their fight against the illegal killing of migratory birds along a major Flyway.

This year’s funding is being earmarked for Doğa Derneği (Birdlife in Turkey), where hunting and trapping songbirds is still rife.

Top birders from around the world are in Israel to take part in the midnight to midnight race challenge. Many of them landed early to take part in the world-renowned 9th Eilat Birds Festival, as well.

Israel is a “superhighway” for birds and organizers of the contest say the winning checklist is likely to top the 200 species mark.

While education in the conservation arena is strong in Israel with numerous birdwatching centers across the country, Doğa Derneği says the Turkish population is still in need of understanding the importance of safeguarding bird migratory routes.