New blood bank to benefit migratory birds

Some migratory birds can fly over a million kilometres in a lifetime – that is if they are not stuck down by the growing number of threats to their safe passage. Thankfully some of those that visit Israel now have a better chance of survival

A wildlife hospital in Israel has opened the world’s first avian blood bank to care for injured migratory birds that use the country as an important resting spot.  Part of the Asia-East African Flyway, Israel is a major stop-off point for birds that journey thousands of kilometres each year. One of the most popular birdwatching sites, The Hula Valley in northern Israel, is visited by 500 million birds from as many as 500 different species each year.

Dr Elad Smit from the Israeli Wildlife Hospital said birds often arrive exhausted and weak after their arduous journeys. “We treat a large number of migratory birds each year and some of these have hypoproteinemia [low levels of blood protein]. We hope these birds could now benefit from the plasma bank.”

He said that though the scheme is in its early stages, the clinic already has around 20 plasma units from 13 species and has used two of them to treat injured birds.

“The knowledge about blood typing in birds is very limited,” Dr Smit explained. “What we do know is that a transfusion is much more likely to have a positive effect if it comes from the same species, so we try to collect plasma units from a variety, with a focus on migratory species that have higher probability of needing such a plasma unit.”

Regular visitors that are likely to benefit include the common buzzard, which can also be seen in many parts of the UK, and the white stork (pictured).

Many of the world’s species of migratory birds are in decline. Factors include climate change, predation by other animals, plane strikes, pesticide use and light pollution. But in places such as the Middle East, they have often had human conflict to contend with too. Cranes have been known to fly 10,000 feet higher over Lebanon than they normally would in order to avoid gunfire.

However, a desire to protect the region’s unique birdlife has also served as a tool for harmony. Several trans-boundary projects to promote conservation and educate people about feathered visitors have taken place for more than 20 years. The school-based Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries project teaches children in Jordan, Israel and Palestine about the area’s birdlife, promoting cross-border understanding at the same time.

Image: Tambako The Jaguar (Flickr user)