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Migration

In the northern hemisphere many birds migrate from higher latitudes in the summer to lower latitudes in the winter. There are various reasons and theories to explain this spectacular phenomenon, as literally millions of individual birds make epic journeys, some circling the globe. For many it is to escape the cold, often freezing conditions in the north to find areas free of snow and

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frost where they can feed, only returning to their breeding grounds for the long summer days, when once again there is plenty of food.

Of course not all birds migrate, some remain all year round in their home localities, they are described as resident, others are partial migrants, some populations migrating others not.


Migration in Lebanon

In Lebanon, due to its position on a major world bird migration route, the situation is very complex. Depending on the species and populations of birds Lebanon is:

  • either a part of the migration route or a destination
  • important for migrants in fall & spring or only one season (White Pelicans, at the top of the page, migrate through in both spring and fall)
  • a destination for winter visitors (like the European Robin Erithacus rubecula, top right)
  • a destination for migrant breeders arriving in the spring to breed (like the Masked shrike Lanius nubicus, bottom right)
  • more than one of the above!
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Migration Routes

click to enlargeLebanon is a hugely important country for migration as it is on one of the most important migration routes in the world. To understand why so many birds migrate through the country you need to understand how birds travel these huge distances.

How Birds travel is important:
Birds travel in one of two ways, which has implications for the routes they take:


  1. Broad front migrants – these are mostly small and medium sized birds that travel by active flight. This means they travel across the country in a broad front and can cross water.

  2. click to enlargeSoaring birds – these are mostly larger birds, like the White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) opposite, see Storks. It would be very expensive, in terms of energy, to flap over large distances, so they soar. They do this by gaining great height from rising air currents, or thermals, and then gliding down on broad spread wings, traveling huge horizontal distances. This means that they can not cross large water bodies, as no thermals form over seas, so they are concentrated on coastal routes around the Mediterranean i.e. Lebanon! They also tend to get concentrated into very large flocks by the weather, topography etc.

Where to See the Amazing Spectacle of Migration in Lebanon

Although soaring birds (including Pelicans, Cranes, Storks and many birds of prey) can be found on migration almost anywhere in Lebanon during the spring and fall seasons, research has shown that certain routes are preferred over others. However, these routes are not exactly the same for all species, or in the two seasons, as is shown on the two maps. The solid green lines show routes that have been established through research. The routes indicated by the dotted lines have been extrapolated and need further research to be confirmed.

Fall Spring
Spring Fall
Spring

In spring, the major route used by soaring birds migrating north through Lebanon is along the Eastern flanks of the Mount Lebanon Range and the western half of the Bekaa. This includes Cranes, Pelicans, birds of prey such as Common Buzzard and Lesser Spotted Eagle, and many thousands of White Storks. Smaller numbers of birds, dominated by White Pelicans and White Storks pass up the western side of the country where they can sometimes be seen in large flocks at sites such as Bhamdoun in the Beirut River Valley.

Fall

In the fall, when birds are returning south to spend the winter in Africa, most soaring birds pass down the eastern flanks of the Lebanon Mountains while some travel higher up on both sides of the ridge. These streams converge about halfway down the mountain chain, with most of the birds, particularly the large birds of prey passing together over the upper portion of the Beirut River Valley. Unlike in the spring, White Storks are seen in much lower numbers in most autumns, with the majority passing further east over Syria and Jordan.

 
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