Sunday, 12 September 2010

Another falcon proven to fly through Libya

Tomorrow I am back in Benghazi. Today is one last chance to have time on my hands to do some final desk research on Libyan birds.

So what have I been looking at?

Well, my observations in spring have led me to the conclusion that more species and more birds fly through Libya than most bird watchers have previously believed. My hypothesis is that there are two main reasons for this. The first is that there has been gross under-reporting in Libya. The second is that the most visible birds - the big birds of prey and storks (which normally fly in the day) mostly use Gibraltar and Istanbul as gateways to Africa. Has this prejudiced birders to think that the same proportion of smaller birds do the same?

There are more and more observations that the smaller birds fly across the Mediterranean through the central north Africa including Libya (probably precisely because the big majority of large birds of prey take the lazy route). I am not denying smaller birds don't use Istanbul and Gibraltar I am just saying that many populations don't do gross diversions to get there.  

A couple of days ago I wrote about some hard science showing that western populations of Eleanora's falcon fly through Libya on migration. 

hobby, Wikipedia

After much searching I have discovered a paper that shows large numbers of another falcon - the Eurasian hobby does the same!

Science is stripping away the prejudices. The main populations of this bird are in central Europe  and these birds do not divert their route to go through Gibraltar and Istanbul.

The paper with the evidence is Proc. R. Soc. B (2009) 276, 727–733 doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1202 which was published online on 4 November 2008 "Falco subbuteo crossing the African equatorial rain forest" by the Swedish scientists: Roine Strandberg, Raymond H. G. Klaassen, Mikael Hake, Patrik Olofsson and Thomas Alerstam

from "Falco subbuteo crossing the African equatorial rain forest"

Three of the four tagged birds from central Europe went through Libya and even the other one didn't divert through Gibraltar.

Eurasian hobby mostly hunt at dawn and dusk, and fly at night so this research is invaluable. So we can safely say a second falcon flies in good numbers through Libya during migration.

As an aftermath, I also found a paper tracking 10 black stork from similar parts of central Europe.  5 went south west to Gibraltar and 5 went south east to Istanbul.  No surprise there. We already knew what storks, eagles and buzzards do. But please don't read anything in it for other birds. Look at the new science!


  1. Hello,
    Iam living in Sirt,Libya. Do you know birds when will fly through? I dont have any idea about birds but i'd liked to take some photos. so if you know please tell me.

  2. Thanks for the enquiry. The bad news is that you may have missed them by a few days. on the other hand you could try for the next two nights. After that it will definitely be too late.

    They leave central Europe on 5-9 Sept and arrive at the equator on 21-25 October.

    Libya is less than half way through the journey so they have probably gone through.

    You would be very lucky to see them too. Most of their flight is at night starting just before before dusk. And of course they have to fly over Sirt.

    Nevertheless it would be a great coup if you photographed them.I would be in awe!

    Good luck Rob