Turkey investigates bird for being Israeli spy

Alleged spy bird damned for having a big nostril.

May 20, 2012 16:40
3 minute read.
Swifts bird at Western Wall

Swifts bird at Western Wall 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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An increasing paranoia of Israeli zoological militancy conspiracy theories has turned a small bird with a larger than normal nostril and Israeli foot band into the latest suspected Mossad spy.

“Tell me. If it’s a spy would they put that it’s from Israel? Are they that stupid?” Ohad Hatzofe, an avian ecologist for Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), told The Media Line.

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A farmer in Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey last week turned the dead Merops Apiaster, commonly known as the European Bee-Eater, to police after he noticed its band read “Tel Aviv University, Israel,” with serial number C43917. Local police turned it over to the regional Agriculture directorate, which then quickly brought in Turkey’s national counter intelligence police, Haberturk reported. 

“It might be used for audio or video” surveillance, Akif Aslanpay, head of the Animal Health Division at Gaziantep’s Agriculture Directorate was quoted as saying. “Israel can do such things.”

The bird’s band wasn’t the only thing that raised suspicions; it was its huge nostril.

“We saw that the bird’s left nostril was three times larger than its right,” said Nebi Koca, president of the local Beekeepers Association, to whom the bird was first brought by the farmers who found it. “Presumably, anything could have been placed in there.”

The implausible spy story took root easily in Turkey, particularly after the Turkish media widely reported it with a photo of the little bird, its incriminating band circled in red.  Ornithologists tag birds to track their migration patterns and many bee-eaters pass through Israel and Turkey on their journeys between Europe and Africa. 


“This data helps you understand longevity, routes of migration, survival, immigration, demographic and geographic parameters or understanding of changes in timing of migration. That’s the basics of ornithology,” Hatzofe said.

Hatzofe said that only about 2% of tagged birds are ever heard from again. But this statistic is much lower for birds tagged in Israel, mainly due to political realities. “Many Israeli birds that are found in some countries will never be reported,” Hatzofe said.

“The idea that there is such a bad reputation for Israel and everything that we are doing is suspected of being a spy. So even if we mark our spies and say this is a spy, we are still suspected that it’s an Israeli spy,” Hatzofe said sardonically.

“It’s such a common bird and it weighs just 70 grams. So what instruments can it carry? Maybe it is a biological weapon and is spreading germs? I am ashamed even to speak about it.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia claimed to have detained an eagle for being a Mossad spy. Earlier, the south Sinai governor suggested that a shark that killed a tourist in Sharm el-Sheikh had been intentionally released by the Mossad to sabotage tourism in the area.

Still, reports such as the latest one about the little Bee-eater with a big nostril lends credence to Arab propaganda that the Jewish state has no boundaries when it comes to collecting intelligence. Stories of sharks, raptors and rodents used by a “Zionist plot” continue to appear.

In 2007, Iran’s state-sponsored IRNA news agency reported that 14 squirrels working for the West had been arrested with spy gear. A year later, Iran announced it nabbed two pigeons with “invisible strings” staking out a nuclear site in Natanz.

“We can be enemies or have disputes on water or borders or other issues, but birds and other wildlife belongs to all of us and we have to cooperate,” Hatzofe said. “We actually do have cooperation across the borders with some colleagues in countries that we are technically enemies. Ignorance causes these stupid beliefs that they are used for spying.”

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