Europe and Central Asia
3 Apr 2017

And the winner is...THE BIRDS!

By Zeynep Karasin

On 28 March race teams from all around the world united in the migration hotspot of Eilat, Israel to participate in an extraordinary bird race for conservation - Champions of the Flyway (COTF). This annual real-time bird spotting race is organised by Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI - BirdLife Israel). Teams from Italy, Finland, Turkey, the UK, the Netherlands, Israel, Palestine, Germany, the US, Spain, China, South Africa and Switzerland all competed for one cause and one cause only: to tackle the issue of bird killing across the Mediterranean flyway.

And the winner is...THE BIRDS!

This year the funding raised by the race teams, £50 000 went to Doğa Derneği (Birdlife in Turkey). Thanks to this funding, Doğa Derneği will be able to continue their great work on making southern Turkey safer for migrating birds. They will be able to develop their educational programs to help the people in the concerned regions understand the importance of keeping the flyways safe, which also includes an educational program for Syrian refugees.

The team that raised most funds this year and therefore was crowned “Guardians of the Flyway 2017” were the The Birding Ecotours Youth Africa Birders. This South African team consists of 4 young members that are united by their common love for birds, their African identity and their absolute dedication to the “gees”. In South African slang “gees” is a noon to describe “An intangible ‘vibe’ or atmosphere, characterized by extreme excitement, adrenalin, positivity, and togetherness. Often associated with situations such as parties and get-togethers, and high quality banter”. They really brought “gees” to the race this year!

The winners of the International Champions of the Flyway 2017 race are the Arctic Redpolls from Finland. These ice-cool birders broke an all-time record, and scored 181 species! They were also the winners of last year’s race; the team consists of four enthusiast birdwatchers and ornithologists from Finland, with bird races close to the heart. For them, the Champions of the Flyway is first and foremost about protection of migratory birds and raising funds for them. The Palestine Sunbirders came in second with 176 species, proving to the whole world that when Israelis and Palestinians work together, even the sky is not the limit.

The winners of the Israeli Champions of the Flyway 2017 race are the Wallcreepers who also scored 181 species. The team that raised the most funding for the Israeli conservation cause was the JBO Orioles, the only all-female team at the race. The team managed to raise over 8000 Shekels that will go to the conservation of Black Storks wintering in Israel, they are the Israeli "Guardians of the Flyway".

This year more teams also participated in the Carbon Champions of the Flyway race, 6 teams did not use any fossil fuels, and birded on foot or cycled. The Green team with the highest total was Spokes Folk, a green birding team from the UK with four members that are all keen cyclists and birders. Green Birding is where one tries to bird without the use of fossil fuels. From the beginnings in Quebec, Canada, the BIGBY birding movement has grown as birders try to lessen the impact of their passion on the environment.

Champions of the Flyway is a cross-border collaboration that unites teams that are in love with nature and bird conservation. In 2016 the funding raised was donated to the Hellenic Ornithological society (HOS) for their work on tackling illegal killing of birds. HOS worked on actions to prevent spring shooting of European Turtle Doves in the protected areas of the Ionian Islands, mass trapping of cage birds in the Aegean islands and illegal trading of European Goldfinch, European Serin and European Greenfinch.

In 2015 the funding raised by the race teams went to support BirdLife Cyprus, to help them to tackle the overwhelming scale of illegal bird killing and trapping that occurs on this small Mediterranean island. In the 2014 edition of the COTF race the funding was donated to SABUKO (Society for Nature Conservation, BirdLife Partner in Georgia) for their work on protecting migratory raptors in the Batumi Bottleneck, an area located in south-west Georgia known for its great importance for migratory birds.

For those of you who didn’t have time to donate to this cause, you still have a chance since the fundraising will be open for a couple days more  

Visit the Champions of the flyway website to learn more


Zeynep Karasin is Media officer for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia. 



Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.