Syrian boy catches Israeli barn owl and sets it free

Owl, raised in a joint government-Tel Aviv University project, had an identifying ring; boy posts find in online birdwatching forum.

By
December 2, 2010 06:17
2 minute read.
barn owls nesting 248.88

barn owls nesting 248.88. (photo credit: )

Israeli migrating birds end up in the strangest places – even in countries with which it has no diplomatic relations.

A barn owl – one of six – raised in a nesting box on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in the fields of the Beit She’an Valley and freed with an identifying ring on its leg was caught last week by a boy in Syria 56 kilometers away.

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The birds were ringed by researcher Motti Charter, who was part of a joint project of Tel Aviv University, the Agriculture Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature.

With Charter at the ringing site was Prof. Alex Roulin of Switzerland’s University of Lausanne, who is an expert on barn owls and is cooperating with Israeli researchers. He will be a featured speaker at the annual Bird Study Day at TAU on Tuesday.

Charter told Roulin that Israel has the highest concentration in agricultural fields of barn owls in the world. In the Beit She’an Valley alone, there are around 200 pairs that raise 1,000 nestlings annually – compared to 40 pairs in areas of similar size in Europe. Barn owls are helpful to farmers as they feed on pests.

TAU bird expert Dr. Yossi Leshem, who heads the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, described the incident.

The nature-loving Syrian boy, whose family breeds pigeons at his home, saw the barn owl trying to attack his own birds. When he caught it, he noticed the identifying ring from Israel.

A friend of his father who is an amateur bird watcher persuaded him to released the “Israeli” barn owl, and he agreed. The Syrian bird watcher wrote about the incident on an international birdwatching site, and it was picked up by bird watchers in the US and England.

Leshem said the Israeli ringing team members were very excited as they have been working in cooperation with Jordanian and Palestinian farmers and conservationists for 15 years, but, as a result of the political situation, have never been able to cooperate with Syrian farmers and bird watchers.

The Israelis did not contact the boy because they feared that if the authorities learned of the connection, he would be in danger.


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