Eilat’s International Bird-Watching Park

 

Millions of migrating birds land in Eilat in southernmost Israel to rest and “refuel” before continuing their journey from Africa onwards to Europe and Asia, or vice versa.


Geographic location: Arava and Eilat highlands
Lookout
Marked path

 
Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 or email moked1@kkl.org.il for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

Identity Card

Israel’s Arava region is an important bird migration route between Europe and Africa, and it is estimated that between five hundred million and one billion birds traverse its skies during the migration seasons. En route many of them stop over in Eilat. In the autumn, on their way to Africa, the birds pause to rest and regain their strength before crossing the deserts that lie before them; and in spring, on their journey to Europe, they stop to recuperate after their desert odyssey. You can come and observe all these wonderful birds at the Eilat Bird-Watching Park, which is located at the northern entrance to the city. Here visitors and locals alike can watch the birds from concealed “hides” specially constructed by KKL-JNF, and learn more about the site at their leisure as they take their ease in the shade of the main arbor.

Region: Eilat

 

 

Notable sites in the forest: Two pools – one of freshwater, the other saltwater.


 

Additional sites in the area: Holland Park, Lizard Park, Timna Park, the Peace Road, the Paran Scenic Lookout.


 

Special attractions: Lookout point, birdwatching


 

Opening hours: Open all hours


 

Admission: Free

 


How to get there:
Access to the Eilat Birding Center: From the Arava Highway (Route no. 90, between kilometer markers 14 and 15) turn eastward in the direction of the Arava border terminal. Shortly before reaching the terminal, turn right (southward), following the signs, and continue for about half a kilometer until you reach the entrance to the park.

From Eilat: Head north as you leave the city and drive towards the Arava border terminal. Turn right and follow the signs to the park.

Projects and Partners Worldwide
Eilat Bird-Watching Park was rehabilitated and developed thanks
to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.

About the park

It is hard to believe, but an abandoned rubbish dump on the outskirts of Eilat is considered one of the most important avian habitats in the world, as it is the main – perhaps the only – way station for over 500 million migratory birds on their way between Europe / Asia and Africa. In recent years KKL-JNF has been working to create bird-watching sites where bird enthusiastsand other visitors can observe these seasonal migrants. KKL-JNF was also instrumental in helping to develop the first migratory bird feeding station in southern Israel, in Yeruham Park.
 
For thousands of years this area of Eilat was occupied by a saltmarsh that served as a way station and feeding site for migratory birds until it fell victim to the Eilat building boom, and the birds were obliged to satisfy their hunger in local farmers’ fields. Until the early 1990s the site was used as a rubbish dump. In 1990, in a joint initiative on the part of KKL-JNF, the Israeli Government Tourist Corporation, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Eilat Municipality, development work began: the ground was leveled, the garbage heaps were covered up, pools were createdand trees that could provide the birds with food were planted. The park is directed by Noam Weiss and managed by Tzadok Tzemach of the Eilat Municipal Tourism Corporation in conjunction with KKL-JNF and other bodies.
 
The Arava region, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley (also referred to as the Syro-African Depression) is an important migration route, and it is estimated that between five hundred million and one billion birds cross its skies during the migration seasons. Eilat lies at a critical point on the route, on the northern boundary of the world’s desert belt, and many birds stop off to break their journey near the city. In the autumn, on their way to Africa, they pause to rest and gather their forces before crossing the deserts, and in the spring, en route to Europe, they stop off to recuperate after their desert journey.
 
The saltmarsh that formerly occupied an area of twelve square kilometers adjacent to Eilat contained marsh plants that produced fruit in the spring at just the right time to coincide with the arrival of the migratory birds, who fed off the abundant fruit and used the vegetation as cover. However, as Eilat gained popularity as a tourist venue, much of the saltmarsh that once served as a “pit stop” after their marathon flight over thousands of kilometers was replaced by hotels, farmland and salt pools, and part of it became an unofficial rubbish dump.
 
The loss of the saltmarsh proved disastrous for the birds. Before migrating, small birds build up measured resources of energy that enable them to cross the deserts and arrive safely in Eilat, and the lives of members of some of these species depend on their finding sustenance in the saltmarsh on arrival.
 
Eilat is important to large birds, too, which glide for a considerable portion of their migration flight, and hundreds of thousands of gliding birds pass through the Eilat region during every migration season.  To lift themselves off the ground these hefty birds require the help of thermals, i.e., warm currents of air that bear them aloft. As thermals are found only on dry land, the Eilat promontory is very useful to them.

The establishment of the park

The Eilat International Ornithological Center was founded in 1984 to repair some of the damage caused by the disappearance of the saltmarsh. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, together with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature and Parks Authority, Eilat Municipality and Ben Gurion University, assumed responsibility for rehabilitation of the site and the transformation of the rubbish dump into an environmentally-friendly venue and bird-watching park.
 
With the help of local contractors, the rubbish was buried and a clear area covered in soil to a depth of about three meters was the result. The site was then planted with local species of vegetation, which, thanks to irrigation, are developing quickly.
 
Now the migratory birds can enjoy resting in a tranquil spot that extends over about one tenth of the original area of the saltmarsh and which is well provided with food. Israel’s national water company Mekorot has also become involved in the project and it supplies water for the pond in the park, which has become a wonderful habitat for a variety of aquatic species. These birds have joined the flamingoes and other bird varieties that take advantage of the pools of brackish water situated to the north of Eilat.

A visit to the park

The park includes a number of paths flanked by “hides” that enable visitors to observe the without disturbing them and which, like the park itself, are open to the general public every day of the year. The sole exception to this is the small closed research area where the migratory species are monitored. The promenade is accessible to visitors with limited mobility.
 
Important: Please do not stray from the marked paths.

Guided tours

The park staff organize a variety of activities for the general public and are happy to provide guided tours for groups and individuals, for a fee.
 
Groups wishing to visit the park are asked to coordinate their arrival ahead of time, even if they do not require a guided tour. This can be done by e-mail or telephone:
 
Telephone: 050-7671290
 
Additional information, including maps and Waze navigation can be found at http://www.eilatbirds.com/en

Acknowledgements

Text: Yaakov Skolnik
Photographs: Avi Hirschfield, Michael Huri, Yossi Zamir, Ronen Vetori, Yaakov Shkolnik 
Website last updated: February 2018