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How you can be a Champion of the Flyway

Green Bee-eater at Negev Desert, Sde Boker, Israel, September 19, 2015, by מינוזיג (Wikimedia Commons).
Green Bee-eater at Negev Desert, Sde Boker, Israel, September 19, 2015, by מינוזיג (Wikimedia Commons).

It’s time once again for Champions of the Flyway! This year’s international bird race takes place on March 29, 2016.

As I’m sure you know, Champions of the Flyway attracts teams of crack birders from all around the world — including, this year, two from the United States and one from the Netherlands that we featured in our August 2015 issue. (See below.)

Champions of the Flyway_220x282The primary purpose of the race is to celebrate the extraordinary miracle of bird migration at Eilat, Israel, one of the world’s most spectacular hotspots, but the event also has a sobering, much more important goal — calling attention to, and preventing, the illegal killing of migratory birds in the Africa-Eurasian Flyway.

We learned the shocking extent of the slaughter in August 2015, when BirdLife International revealed that the number of birds illegally killed by shooters and trappers around the Mediterranean every year was as high as 25 million.

According to BirdLife, migrating birds are shot, caught in nets, trapped on glue-covered branches (also known as lime sticks), and lured into traps with song recordings. Many of the birds are secretly served as a delicacy in restaurants and homes throughout the Mediterranean.

Report: Illegal hunting in the Mediterranean claims 25 million birds every year.


Organized by the nonprofit Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and BirdLife, the Champions race helps conservationists tackle the issue locally. Funds raised in previous years have supported BirdLife Cyprus, BirdLife Malta, and Bird Conservation Georgia. This year, the spotlight will be on Greece — a country most of us associate with pristine beaches and breathtaking scenery but where more than a million songbirds are illegally killed each year.

Every one of the teams participating in this year’s race is soliciting donations from friends and other fellow bird lovers, and each team deserves your support. We’re especially proud of three:

  • Dutch Knights (Netherlands) — Marc Guyt, Martijn Verdoes, Leo Heemskerk, and Ferry Ossendorp. We published a collection of photos taken by Guyt during last year’s race in our August 2015 issue.
  • Bird Watcher’s Digest/Zeiss Way-off Coursers (United States) — Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest; Ben Lizdas, sales manager at Eagle Optics; Alvaro Jaramillo, of Alvaro’s Adventures; and author Mark Cocker.
  • Leica Cape May Bird Observatory American Dippers (United States) — Leica Pro Staffer Doug Gochfeld; Merlin app developer Ben Barkley; CMBO program director Don Freiday; and Tom Reed, regional editor for North American Birds and member of the New Jersey Bird Records Committee.

We’ll publish an insider’s view of this year’s Champions of the Flyway, written and illustrated by the Dippers themselves, in an upcoming issue of BirdWatching. Don’t miss it!


Last year, teams raised more than $50,000 for conservation. With your help, this year’s event will raise more, and do even more good. Look for the yellow “donate here” buttons on the Champions of the Flyway website, and please give. — Chuck Hagner, Editor

Read more

Champions of the Flyway in 2015 put spotlight on illegal trapping in Cyprus.

Read “Emptying the Skies,” Jonathan Franzen’s famous article in The New Yorker about illegal hunting.

See photos from bird slaughter in Cyprus, Italy, Egypt, and Albania.


Champions of the Flyway website.

Read about the Hellenic Ornithological Society.


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