Europe and Central Asia
19 Mar 2018

Soaring high: safeguarding migratory birds over Turkey

White storks over Turkey © Cansu Kabakçı
By Gui-Xi Young

For more than 15 years, our Turkish BirdLife partner Doğa Derneği (DD) has been working to safeguard migratory birds. And now, thanks to £50, 000 of vital funding raised by SPNI (BirdLife Israel), they have been able to greatly step-up their actions.

The birds-eye view over the bustling, transcontinental city of Istanbul – with its 2,000 years of rich cultural history straddling the Bosphorus Strait and the Black Sea – must be something truly spectacular to behold. But the view from the ground can be just as impressive, if not more so, when the magic of migration season reaches its spring and autumn peak. How could the sight of 2 million white storks and birds of prey passing overhead within the space of only a few short weeks possibly fail to take anyone’s breath away? Or the 1.2 million raptors travelling along Turkey’s other great flyway over Anatolia on their way to or from the famous Batumi bottleneck? Or the millions of ducks and geese that also follow these paths year on year? One need only look up to the skies. Nature does the rest.

White storks over Turkey © Cansu Kabakçı

Or at least, that is how it should be. Every year, the millions of soaring birds that migrate between Europe, Asia and Africa over Turkey are forced to navigate the threat of illegal killing, poisoning and electrocution along their perilous journey. And every year, distressingly large numbers of these birds fail to make it.

For more than 15 years, our Turkish BirdLife partner Doğa Derneği (DD) has been working to safeguard migratory birds. With passion and commitment, they have launched some truly inspiring initiatives, including education outreach with communities in South Eastern Turkey – notably in Urfa, Birecik, and the Hatay Amanos mountains and lakes. And now, thanks to £50, 000 of vital funding raised by the 2017 Champions of the Flyway race, they have been able to greatly step-up their actions.

Educational outreach in Urfa Birecik © Doğa Derneği

Champions of the Flyway is an annual real-time bird spotting race organised by BirdLife’s Israeli partner SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). Imaginatively named teams of world class birdwatchers from around the globe ‘race’ each other to spot the highest number of birds around the migration hotspot of Eilat. Each year, donations raised by the teams go towards a different BirdLife partner’s work to make the Mediterranean flyways safer for birds.

Since the 2017 race last March, DD has been extremely busy. With the funding they received from the competition, they have started production on a short film about migratory birds, flyways and illegal bird killing. Meanwhile, their on-the-ground local outreach has been tackling some of the worst ‘black spots’ for bird deaths –Urfa, Adana, Mersin and Çanakkale – and the three migration ‘bottlenecks’ of Istanbul, Antakya and Antalya.

Cranes migrating over Turkey © Doğa Derneği

In August, DD helped local group LeylekEL (Storkland) to organise the ‘Autumn Migration White Stork Census’ in the Büyükçekmece district of İstanbul. The survey – in which 18 volunteers counted 153,799 individuals – opened new insights into the little known bottleneck, from the migrant population of White Stork over Istanbul and its migration patterns through Thrace to the major threats at its overnight roosting sites.

Then, in late November, DD teamed up with the local NGO Friends of Alakir to conduct the first of four field studies of the Alakir Valley of Antalya that will continue into 2018. The valley – nestled between the Bey and Tahtalı Mountains (both KBAs – Key Biodiversity Areas) and the Alakir River – is known for its sheer number of endemic floral species and as an important refuge for wildlife. Nevertheless, it has yet to be surveyed extensively. For example, reports that the secretive Brown Fish Owl (Ketupa zeylonensis semenowi) resides in the valley have long gone unconfirmed. Nocturnal surveys planned for this year hope to put that question to rest – so watch this space!

Fish owl © Yusuf Özbey

Over in the Samandağ district of Antakya – an important migration hotspot – DD has begun engaging local NGOs, schools and researchers at Mustafa Kemal University, looking to establish a voluntary watchdog team to monitor illegal killing of protected species in the Amanos Mountains, notably vultures, buzzards, storks and cranes.

Epitomizing the BirdLife ethos of working for ‘nature and people’, DD has also partnered with BirdLife Syria to organise a truly inspiring Youth Conservation Camp for Syrian refugees living in Birecik. The Youth Camp, which was supported by the United Nations[1], consisted of educational workshops on migratory birds and Turkish hunting legislation as well as and birdwatching and involved the participation of 300 young Syrian refugees.

Workshop with Syrian refugees © Doğa Derneği

DD has certainly set the bar high for the next beneficiary of Champions of the Flyway fundraising. The 2018 race takes place on Monday 26 March  and this year the money earned will go to BIOM (BirdLife Croatia) and the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS/BirdLife Serbia) to support them in their stellar efforts to tackle illegal killing and trapping along the Adriatic Flyway. More than 10 keen-eyed bird-watching teams are in the running, including a joint BIOM-BPSSS team, ‘The Quail Warriors’ and BirdLife Malta’s brilliantly named ‘The Maltese Falcons’.

Good luck to all the teams – and may the best birders win!


Gui-Xi Young - Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

[1] United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Southeastern Anatolia Project Regional Development Administration (GAP) supported the event.



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