Champions of the Flyway 2016 – A Race To Conserve Birds of the Flyway

This White-eared bulbul was trapped while migrating through Athens ©HOS

This White-eared bulbul was trapped while migrating through Athens ©HOS

One of the most important conservation issues facing birds in Europe is the illegal killing and trapping of birds. In Greece, for example, while unsuspecting tourists sunbathe on white sands, farther up in the hills birds such as the Turtle Dove are being shot; poachers bag their lifeless take as if they were figs at market.

Others are baiting live, captive birds in man-made drinking pools (called limnes) in order to attract, and then trap, migrant birds for the purpose of the caged bird trade. Being the peak of migration, tens of thousands of migrant songbirds, driven by an instinctual and unstoppable urge but unsuspecting of their doom, are illegally trapped and sold on the black market.

Greece is among the three worst countries for the illegal killing of European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur). More than 130,000 are killed annually.

Greece is among the three worst countries for the illegal killing of European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur). More than 130,000 are killed annually.  ©HOS Chris Vlachos

For millennia, islands across the Mediterranean Sea have provided necessary refuge as birds hopscotched between northern Africa and the European continent. But this illegal trapping strikes birds along their migration flyway where they are most vulnerable.

European Union laws protect against illegal killing of songbirds, but it is still an increasing threat to the viability of bird populations. A recent Birdlife International study uncovered a shocking death toll – some 12-36 million birds, mainly songbirds, may be killed illegally by shooters and trappers every year.

What can be done? Indeed, a culturally entrenched practice that harms wildlife is supremely challenging. But such problems been overcome in the past, as anyone familiar with America’s Christmas “Side Hunt” can attest.

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This is why the “Champions of the Flyway” bird race exists. This international birding competition, now in its third year, was organized by SPNI (Society for the Protection of Birds in Israel/BirdLife in Israel) for the purpose of raising funds to tackle the illegal killing of birds along the Mediterranean Flyways.

This March, teams of birders – some of the most elite in the world – will come together and compete to observe and count as many bird species as possible within a 24-hour period. Each year, funds collected from this fun and friendly race go to support a different non- governmental organization.

The Champions of the Flyway project works to enable local conservation organizations, and to help them tackle the issues on the ground.

This year, the spotlight is on Greece, where nearly one million songbirds are illegally killed every year. This year’s race will highlight the situation on two of the biggest tourist islands – Santorini and Zakynthos, where large numbers of Turtle Doves and Quail are shot during migration. Champions will work with The Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), the Birdlife partner in Greece, to follow a 3-prong approach to address the illegal killing.

  1. Raise awareness within communities where poaching is common.
  2. Implement conservation awareness in schools and youth groups.
  3. Aid law enforcement
Turtle Dove could go extinct in our lifetime. © Ezra Hadad

Turtle Dove could go extinct in our lifetime. © Ezra Hadad

Greece is the third worst crossing of the Mediterranean for Turtle Dove. The species crosses an extremely long stretch on its way to Northern Europe to breed: the Sahara desert, then the Mediterranean Sea. It arrives in Zakynthos and Paxi-Antipaxi completely depleted, only to be met by gunshots. Illegal shooting of the declining Turtle Dove during spring migration has taken place for decades in protected areas of the Ionian Islands, more intensely on Zakynthos and Paxoi-Antipaxoi, as part of a deeply engrained local tradition. More than 130,000 are killed annually.


If we do not do something,
the Turtle Dove WILL go extinct in our lifetime.

Bird watchers are the sentinels of extinction for the avian world. We simply MUST lead the way to champion this cause.


Help send a strong signal: There is no place for uncontrolled and unsustainable killing of birds for sport. Anywhere. Anytime.

searchHere is what you can do:

• Follow the Champions of the Flyway race via Facebook and Twitter. Hashtag #COTF2016
Pick a team to support and make a donation from their team page.
Follow the race on social media and SHARE the posts with your friends so we can spread the word of this conservation race far and wide.

Together, we can make a difference. We can’t wait to watch the race unfold!


The Champions of the Flyway bird race is staged as part of the Eilat Bird Festival by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife’s national Partner in Israel) and is a BirdLife International Migratory Birds & Flyways Programme initiative.

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